Gene Wilder's Widow Pens Heartbreaking Essay on His Alzheimer's Battle
By Jennifer Drysdale
Just over a year after his death, Gene Wilder's widow is opening up about his battle with Alzheimer's.
The legendary actor and comedian died on Aug. 29, 2016 at 83, years after he was diagnosed with the disease. In her essay for ABC News, Karen Wilder reflects on her romance with Gene, and the difficult last few years of his life.
"Always the kindest, most tender man (if a fly landed on him, he waited for the fly to leave), suddenly I saw Gene lashing out at our grandson,” Karen recalls. “His perception of objects and their distance from him became so faulty that on a bike ride together, he thought we were going to crash into some trees many feet away from us. Once, at a party with friends, when the subject of Young Frankenstein came up, he couldn’t think of the name of the movie and had to act it out instead.”
"My husband took the news with grief, of course, but also astonishing grace," she writes of Gene's reaction to his diagnosis. "I watched his disintegration each moment of each day for six years.
“One day, I saw him struggle with the ties on his drawstring pants. That night, I took the drawstrings out,” she explains. “Then his wrist was bleeding from the failed effort of trying to take off his watch. I put his watch away.”
The actor's illness progressed to the point where he fell one day near the pool, but couldn't stand back up. "I maneuvered him over to the edge of our pool and floated him to the other side, where there were steps and a railing to assist him," Karen shares, before noting the toll caregiving took on her throughout the years.
“It is a strange, sad irony that so often, in the territory of a disease that robs an individual of memory, caregivers are often the forgotten,” she says. “Without them, those with Alzheimer’s could not get through the day, or die -- as my husband did -- with dignity, surrounded by love.”