American actor Gene Wilder, adored by many for his lead role in films including Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, has died aged 83, his family have said.
The actor – who was also famous for his performances in The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein – passed away on Sunday in Stamford, Connecticut, due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, a statement confirmed.
“It is almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him,” his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said.
Wilder’s battle with Alzheimer’s was not publicly known because, according to his family, he didn’t want to upset young fans:
“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.”
The actor is best known for his collaborations with writer and director Mel Brooks, with whom he made a series of comedy classics. Brooks first cast him as Leo Bloom, a nervy accountant in the 1968 comedy The Producers.
Three years later he took on the role of Willy Wonka, one of his most beloved characters.
His nephew said that he “passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember”.
Wilder is survived by his fourth wife Karen to whom he’d been married for 25 years.