You could say it was Mel Brooks who first saw something funny in actor Gene Wilder. His breakthrough role as the neurotic accountant “Leo Bloom” in the 1968 Brooks’ comedy “The Producers” earned Wilder an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
Gene Wilder was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and caught the acting bug by doing theater. His professional relationship with Brooks was akin to lightning in a bottle.
He earned his second Oscar nod, this time for best adapted screenplay for their parody “Young Frankenstein”.
His role as a hard-drinking gunslinger in “Blazing Saddles,” also helped to cement Wilder’s meteoric rise to stardom.
Perhaps the film that endeared the witty actor to many across generations is “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
His private life became public with his marriage in 1984 to “Saturday Night Live” star Gilda Radner.
Sadly, after two years of marriage, Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died three years later. Wilder dealt with his grief by establishing “Gilda’s Club,” a home away from home for patients and families.
The actor teamed up with his friend Richard Pryor for a string of successful comedies, including “Silver Streak”, “Stir Crazy,” and “See No Evil, Hear No Evil.”
By the 1990s, Wilder remarried and kept his career going with various projects.
However in 1999, the performer was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. With the help of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, wilder made a complete recovery.
Acting took a back seat in his life, and except for a few small TV roles, he focused his energy on writing.
In 2005, he released his memoir “Kiss Me like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art.”
Gene Wilder will be remembered for his wit and warmth, and his memorable performances that were simply unforgettable.