How Gene Wilder, ‘Willy Wonka’ Star Died at 83

Gene Wilder, who regularly stole the show in comedic films such as “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory” died Monday at his home in Stamford, Conn.

His nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Wilder was 83. He revealed in a statement, “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 recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality.

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.

He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989.

The comic actor, who was twice Oscar nominated, for his role in “The Producers” and for co-penning “Young Frankenstein” with Mel Brooks, usually portrayed a neurotic who veered between total hysteria and dewy-eyed tenderness. “My quiet exterior used to be a mask for hysteria,” he told Time magazine in 1970. “After seven years of analysis, it just became a habit.”

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