Remembering Gene Wilder: A legacy of laughs

Remembering Gene Wilder: A legacy of laughs

This year has been unkind. We’ve lost musical innovators and rock legends. We’ve lost actors and actresses that shaped our childhood, or made us laugh. It seems the cruelty of time has chosen these past few years to prove to us how fragile we are as humans. While celebrities are no different than anyone else, we all know them, or feel like we do, because they define moments in our lives that brought some form of emotion out of us.

This one hit a little harder.

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Gene Wilder had already stepped away from show business before he ever stopped acting. His 2002 quote, “I love acting. I hate show business.” summed up so much of what we knew about the man. We had already lost, or rather he had lost his incredibly brilliant wife, Gilda Radner, to cancer many years ago. Perhaps today’s generation is unaware of her smile and how it captivated us. How she captured our laughter and never released it.

Gilda Radner in "Haunted Honeymoon," a movie she starred in with Gene Wilder.

Gilda Radner in “Haunted Honeymoon,” a movie she starred in with Gene Wilder.

Though Wilder has been out of the public eye for many years, he’s never been out of our collective conscious. Alzheimers is one of those diseases we don’t talk about, or we brush over with a joke about it to soothe our fears.

Wilder’s work is diverse and assorted. His comedy was smart and distinct. His work with Mel Brooks in “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles,” while broad reaching and eclectic, always seemed personal, like it was written just for me. It seems timeless now.

Seeing him perform with Richard Pryor provided a completely different style of humor, but brought out the best in both performers. “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” “Silver Streak” and “Stir Crazy” were unapologetically politically incorrect, panned by many critics, yet people still watch them daily, laughing unashamed.

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Wilder is probably best remembered for his work on “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” a role which established the movie as a psychedelically trimmed family favorite, yet somehow in the same vein as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mary Poppins.” “The Producers,” the 1967 adaptation of the Broadway hit, gave us one of the most witty, smart musicals every created.

Wilder was frail in recent days. Tired. He was 83 years old and had fought, along with the support of his family, while keeping his disease private.

“I like writing books. I’d rather be at home with my wife. I can write, take a break, come out, have a glass of tea, give my wife a kiss, and go back in and write some more. It’s not so bad. I am really lucky.” – Gene Wilder.