[Source: Yahoo.News] Gene Wilder, the blue-eyed, frazzle-haired actor who elevated panic to a comic art form in frequent collaboration with Mel Brooks (The Producers, Young Frankenstein) and Richard Pryor (Silver Streak, Stir Crazy), died on Sunday in Stamford, Conn., from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. His family confirmed the news to the Associated Press. Wilder was 83.
Wilder perhaps is most fondly remembered as the captivating candy man and “Pure Imagination” crooner of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Blazing Saddles, helmed by Brooks and co-written by Brooks and Pryor, and Bonnie and Clyde are two other classics among Wilder’s roughly three dozen TV and film credits.
“I am really not — except in a comedy film,” Wilder said in 2013.
Maybe because others perceived him as an actor first as well, Wilder was the rare comedy star who was made welcome at the grownup table. He was twice nominated for an Oscar: a Best Supporting Actor nod for The Producers and a screenplay nod for his and Brooks’s Young Frankenstein.
Wilder was previously married to Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner, and in the wake of her death in 1989, he became a leading proponent of ovarian cancer screening and research. He’s survived by his fourth wife, Karen Webb.
Born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933, in Milwaukee, the future star became a comic actor almost from the start — and for a tragic reason: His mother suffered from heart disease, and since it was feared stress would kill her, laughter was demanded. Wilder, who went on to be one of the screen’s leading neurotics, would trace his own neuroses to the experience.
“My mother was suffering every day of her life, and what right did I have to be happy if she was suffering?” Wilder told the Washington Post in 2005. “So whenever I got happy about something, I felt the need to cut it off, and the only way to cut it off was to pray. ‘Forgive me, Lord.’ For what, I didn’t know.”
Wilder’s mother survived into his early 20s; she died, as Radner would decades later, of ovarian cancer. By the time of his mother’s death, Wilder was already a veteran actor, having been drawn to the stage as a teen. His early life took the familiar course of the draft-era young man: college (University of Iowa, then England’s Bristol Old Vic Theatre), then the Army, then back to civilian life. The former Jerome Silberman marked his return with a new name: Gene, depending on the source, chosen either in honor of a Thomas Wolfe character or his late mother, Jeanne; Wilder, for the author Thornton Wilder.
Wilder began to appear on the Broadway stage in the early 1960s. The 1963 play Mother Courage and Her Children paired him with Anne Bancroft and brought him into the orbit of her then boyfriend, Mel Brooks.
Four years later, in 1967, and a few months after he’d made his film debut in Bonnie and Clyde, Wilder starred in Brooks’s The Producers. (Because the future classic was a slow starter, to put it mildly, The Producers was not released in New York and Los Angeles until 1968.)
In Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers, Wilder played mild-mannered types driven to hyperventilation by bank robbers (the former) and a scheming Broadway impresario (the latter). The parts arguably were his destiny: “When God saw Gene Wilder,” Brooks was quoted as saying, “He said, ‘That is prey. And we’ll put him on Earth and everybody will chase him and have some fun.'”
In his mid-30s, and amid the “New Hollywood” revolution, Wilder was suddenly a leading man. He was not, however, suddenly everywhere, in everything.
“I was always very selective,” Wilder said of his movie choices. “No, selective isn’t the right word.”
“Egomaniacal,” he decided, was what he was looking for.