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Gene Wilder, the original Willy Wonka and star of multiple Mel Brooks comedies, has died at the age of 83, confirms the Associated Press. According to his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman, reports Variety, he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Stamford, Conn. He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989.
In a statement, Walker-Pearlman said, “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 25 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.”
Wilder’s movies were some of the funniest comedies I remember watching as a kid, he left a legacy of movies that are still fun to watch today.