Willy Wonka star Gene Wilder dies aged 83

Actor Gene Wilder, who starred in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has died at the age of 83.

Wilder, who also starred in classic comedies Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Stir Crazy, died on Sunday night in Stamford, Connecticut.

His nephew said the film legend was suffering from complications from Alzheimer's disease.

In a statement to Variety, his nephew said the illness "never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality". 

He said the decision to delay disclosing his condition was because: "He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world."

The frizzy-haired actor - who tended to play neurotic characters caught up in madcap schemes - was twice Oscar nominated, for his role in The Producers, a Mel Brooks comedy. 

In 1971, he assumed the role of Willy Wonka, one of his most beloved characters, which became a children's favourite. 

In 1974 he starred in two other Brooks comedies, Western spoof Blazing Saddles and gothic horror spoof, Young Frankenstein.

He co-starred with Richard Pryor in 1980 prison comedy Stir Crazy, which was a global box office smash.

On playing Willy Wonka, Gene had one condition on playing the character. ‘When I make my first entrance, I’d like to come out of the crowd carrying a cane and then walk toward the door with a limp,’ Wilder insisted.

‘After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet.

‘As I walk towards them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself, ‘but I keep on walking, until I realise I no longer have my cane.

‘I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.’

When asked why, Wilder had a great answer. ‘Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth,’ he said.

What a brilliant man.


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