On August 29, 2016, the world lost another one of the greats: Gene Wilder. He was eighty-three, and his death was the result of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Wilder was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933. He was best known for his talent as an actor, starring in such beloved films as Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and of course, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Although, like many actors, he started small. His first role was an off-Broadway production of Roots, followed by a role on Broadway in The Complaisant Lover in 1961. In 1967, he started to win hearts on the screen with roles in Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers. He teamed with Mel Brooks for the first time in Start the Revolution Without Me, a partnership that would prove golden for the both of them. Soon after, he became the quirky and beloved Willy Wonka. Wilder is characterized for his enthusiastic performances and over-the-top characters that fascinate and entertain us. He had a charmingly unique way of performing and was also trademarked by his curly hair and striking blue eyes. He was also a master of his voice; he could talk very softly and still make us listen, but raise his voice to a yell when his character got a little more worked up.
Wilder was married four times, though one of his more well-known wives was actress Gilda Radner. Radner was best known for her bits on SNL, but she was on the big screen as well. Wilder and Radner even worked on several movies together as well, including Hanky Panky, The Woman in Red, and Haunted Honeymoon. They were said to have had an unmistakable chemistry. Sadly, Gilda died of ovarian cancer less than five years after they were married. Gene was devastated, and in her honor, founded Gilda’s Club, which was, and still is, dedicated to supporting cancer patients and their families.
No matter the role, it remains unquestionable that Gene Wilder made an impact. IC student Hannah Hawkins says, “He made all of the troubles of the world go away. Whether he be singing about pure imagination or taking his signature comedic pause. He made everything seem ok.” Another IC student Max Valdez says, “The roles he played were such a wide range of characters. That just played into every second of his being. Most of all the man was kind and humbling, I bet he knew his acting prowess but didn’t choose to abuse or flaunt it, only use it, control what he could do and know to entertain the world. He’s truly inspiring. The arch of his characters was unbelievable.” Loyola University Chicago student Lynsey Hergett says, “Blazing Saddles. That movie is all you need to see of him to know he’s a genius and an amazing actor. Bonus points for having been married to Gilda Radner.”
Gene Wilder truly left his mark on this world, and he will not soon be forgotten.
Maria Wittenauer, from Springfield, Illinois, is a junior double-majoring in theatre and communication and rhetorical studies and minoring in English at Illinois College. Maria is a features editor for The Rambler, a consultant at the Writing Center, a transcriber for the History Department, and a member of Gamma Delta, the Women’s Chorale, and President Carter’s Patrol (PCP) Improv Troupe.