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Saying Goodbye to the Waco Kid

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Gene Wilder died today of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Connecticut. He was 83.

Wilder, born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, WI, was known for many comedic roles on stage, television, and on the big screen, including films like Young Frankenstein, the 1971 movie version of Roald Dahl's book, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and of course Blazing Saddles — a politically incorrect movie that could never be made today.


Wilder (who once taught fencing part time while studying theater) earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa and served for two years as a medic in the U.S. Army. His last performance was in the sitcom ‘Will and Grace', in which he played “Mr. Stein.” He earned an Emmy for that role.

Said Wilder's nephew in a statement,

“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. 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.

He continued to enjoy art, music, and kissing with his leading lady of the last twenty-five years, Karen. He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the the company of beloved ones.”

Tonight we say goodbye to the Waco Kid, Willie Wonka, Dr. Victor Frankenstein and many other great characters of imagination. Good night, Mr. Wilder. We'll miss you.

Cover photo courtesy of Robert Aldrich's The Frisco Kid, another Western themed cowboy in which Wilder played a hapless Polish rabbi — a significantly different role than the Willy Wonka character he'd by then become so associated with.

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