NEWS

Iconic Comedian Gene Wilder Dies At Age 83

by Lynda Brendish and Emily Krauser 12:40 PM PDT, August 29, 2016
Playing Iconic Comedian Gene Wilder Dies At Age 83

Gene Wilder has died at the age of 83, his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, confirmed to ET.

The iconic comedic actor, who starred in such classics as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers, died at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, on Monday of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

"It is almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him," the statement read.

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Wilder had been battling Alzheimer's for the past three years, with the actor and his family choosing to keep the illness private.

"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," Walker-Pearlman wrote. "It took enough, but not that."

"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," the statement continued. "He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world."

Walker-Pearlman ended the note with a heartbreaking but beautiful recollection of Wilder's final moments.

"He was 83 and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember," he wrote. "As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favorites: Ella Fitzgerald. There is a picture of he and Ella meeting at a London Bistro some years ago that are among each or cherished possessions. She was singing 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow,' as he was taken away."

The Associated Press first reported the news, tweeting, "Gene Wilder, star of 'Willy Wonka' and Mel Brooks comedies, is dead at 83, his family says."

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Mel Brooks, Wilder's longtime collaborator, was one of the first to react to the news of his friend's passing. "Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time," he tweeted. "He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship."

Wilder is survived by his wife, Karen, nephew Jordan, the Webb family (Kevin, Gretchen, Tucker, and Spencer), as well as Jordan's wife, Elizabeth. His sister, Corinne, died this past January.

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