Beloved Actor Gene Wilder, Famous for Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka, Has Died

Wilder appeared on Broadway through the ’60s, before making his name on the big screen.

Gene Wilder (left) at the 2007 opening night of Mel Brooks' Broadway-musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein. Wilder starred in Brooks' original film.
Gene Wilder (left) at the 2007 opening night of Mel Brooks' Broadway-musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein.
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

Stage and screen actor Gene Wilder, known for collaborating with Mel Brooks on films including The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, as well as his starring role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, died today at age 83. The cause of death was reportedly complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman to Jeanne and William J. Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1933. He attended the University of Iowa, where he studied Communication and Theatre Arts, and went on to be accepted into the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and later, New York City's HB Studio.

Wilder made his Broadway debut in 1961 as a hotel valet in The Complaisant Lover, soon also appearing in Mother Courage and Her Children (1963), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1963), The White House (1964), and Luv (1964). In 1967, Wilder broke into the film world, playing the role of Eugene Grizzard in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

In 1968, Wilder and actor-writer-director Mel Brooks began their iconic collaboration, with Brooks casting Wilder as Leo Bloom in The Producers, Wilder's first leading role in a feature film. Following the success of that film, Wilder and Brooks would continue to work together in 1974 on Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder wrote.

Wilder took on what would become perhaps his most iconic role in 1971, when he starred as the title character in Mel Stuart's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Though the film was not a huge success when originally released, in the last 40 years it has developed an extensive cult following. An upcoming Broadway-musical adaption of the novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, will make its U.S. debut at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 2017 with Christian Borle in the role Wilder played on film.

As a director, Wilder's projects included The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) and The World's Greatest Lover (1977), both of which he wrote and starred in, as well as The Woman in Red (1984) and Haunted Honeymoon (1986), which Wilder created with then wife Gilda Radner.

Wilder worked only sporadically following Radner's death in 1989, with projects including the short-lived sitcom Something Wilder (1994-1995) and a stint on two episodes of Will & Grace, for which he won an Emmy Award. In 2007, a Broadway adaptation of Young Frankenstein debuted on Broadway, with Wilder credited as writer of the story and original screenplay.

In addition, Wilder authored several books in the 2000s beginning with his memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art (2005), and continuing with the novels My French Whore (2007), The Woman Who Wouldn't (2008), What Is This Thing Called Love? (2010), and Something to Remember You By (2013).

Wilder married and divorced Mary Mercier and Mary Joan Schutz in the 1960s and was married to Gilda Radner from 1984 until her death in 1989. He is survived by his fourth wife, Karen Boyer, whom he married in 1991.