Gene Wilder’s heartbreaking decision to hide battle with Alzheimer’s: ‘One less smile’

Tonight, Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel star in the Mel Brooks-directed comedy The Producers, which airs at 9:10 p.m. m. on BBC Four. The 1967 film stars the likes of Dick Shawn and Kenneth Mars. It follows the story of a theater producer and his accountant who get caught up in a scam trying to pull off the worst musical possible. Eventually the pair decide to create a musical based on Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. effect. Such was the significance of the film that Brooks won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Although it initially garnered mixed reviews, over time The Producers gained cult status, and in 1996 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry (NFR), ranking 11th on the 100 Years…100 Laughs list. from the American Film Institute.

The film helped cement Wilder’s star among Hollywood’s elite, and was one of several films he would work on with Brooks, who at the age of 96 is still considered one of Tinsel Town’s greatest writers and performers.

Arguably Wilder’s most universally satisfying role was as the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl’s 1971 Imagination of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another film selected for preservation on NFR USA.

He became so recognizable to children that Wilder’s tales that often re-created the character for them stood the test of time, and even in his death decades later, the Wisconsin-born actor didn’t want Wonka’s magic to be lost. vanish.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (Image: GETTY)


Wilder passed away at the age of 83 in 2016 as a result of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. The devastating news shocked his fans, and the star decided to keep his diagnosis private.

His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, revealed the heartbreaking decision behind his silence about his health in a statement following Wilder’s death.

He said: “The decision to wait until this moment to reveal his condition was not vanity, but rather that the countless little children who would smile or yell ‘there’s Willy Wonka’ at him, would not have to be exposed to an adult referencing illness or problem and turns pleasure into worry, disappointment or confusion. I just couldn’t bear the thought of one less smile in the world.”

His family later noted that the comedian died while Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of Over the Rainbow, his favorite song, was playing. Brooks also spoke about his devastation over Wilder’s death.

Gene Wilder with Charlie Bucket in the 1967 film (Image: GETTY)


Speaking on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, he recalled his grief at the loss of his close friend: “He was a very dear friend, I hoped he would go, but when it happens it’s still tremendous. It’s a huge shock. I’m still reeling.” No more Gene? It was such a wonderful part of my life.”

Other stars also shared their devastation over Wilder’s death on Twitter, including Carl Reiner, Albert Brooks, Billy Crystal and Russell Crowe.

British comedian James Corden paid his own tribute to him on The Late Late Show, saying, “He was just a magical person and made everyone around him feel this incredible sense of joy.”

Before his death, Wilder discussed his retirement during a 2013 interview with Time Out New York magazine, in which he answered questions about whether he would ever star in a movie again.