Gene Wilder, the star of the iconic 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has passed away at the age of 83. He died on Sunday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, due to complications from Alzheimer's disease, his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman confirmed in a statement, adding: "It is almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him."
Gene also appeared in classic comedy films such as The Producers and Blazing Saddles. He frequently collaborated with writer and director Mel Brooks, as well as stand-up comedian Richard Pryor.
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Gene Wilder will be remembered by many for his role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Mel led the tributes to Gene on Twitter, moments after his death was announced. "Gene Wilder – One of the truly great talents of our time," he said. "He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship."
Fellow comedian Jim Carrey wrote: "Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there's a heaven he has a Golden Ticket," while Ricky Gervais added: "Good Day Sir! RIP Gene Wilder."
Steve Martin also remembered the late actor. "Goodbye, Gene Wilder. You were one of the great screen comedians. Original and surprising every time."
Close collaborator and good friend Mel Brooks led the tributes to Gene
Gene had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1989. In the family statement, Jordan revealed that Gene had chosen to keep his battle with Alzheimer's disease private for the sake of his young fans.
"We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognise those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality," he wrote.
"The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn't vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him 'There's Willy Wonka,' would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world."
Gene was also well-known for his appearance in Blazing Saddles
Jordan concluded: "He was 83 and passed holding out hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember. As our hands clutched and performed one last breath, the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favourites: Ella Fitzgerald.
"There is a picture of him and Ella meeting at a London Bistro some years ago that are among our cherished possessions. She was singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow as he was taken away."