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'Willy Wonka' Star and Frequent Mel Brooks Leading Man Gene Wilder Dead at 83


Gene Wilder has died at 83.

The star of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and a slew of other beloved comedies died at his home earlier this month at his Stamford, Connecticut home, family says.

According to his nephew, the cause of Wilder's death was complications from Alzheimer's disease.

After Wonka, Wilder was perhaps best known as director Mel Brooks' favorite leading man in hits that included Young Frankenstein, The Producers and Blazing Saddles.

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Wilder's nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, told Variety:

"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 company of beloved ones."

Wilder married his fourth wife, Karen Boyer, in 1991 two years after losing wife Gilda Radner to ovarian cancer.

In addition to Brooks and Radner, Wilder was well known for his association with another notably funny person, comedian Richard Pryor.

The duo starred co-starred in four films in 15 years: Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991).

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Taking to Twitter following the announcement of his friend's death, Brooks wrote:

"Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship."

Born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1935 in Milwaukee, Wilder changed his name as he began to win Broadway and off-Broadway roles in the early 1960's.

His 1967 role in The Producers was his first major big screen credit and helped launch a decades-long Hollywood career during which he was nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards.

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