“He was sick, and I knew it and I expected it. I expected he would go,” he told host Jimmy Fallon. “But I don’t know, when it happens it’s still tremendous. It’s a big shock, you know. I’m still reeling from no more Gene and I can’t call him. He was such a wonderful part of my life.”
The pair worked together on many classic films like Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein, two of which earned Wilder Oscar nominations.
“We became very good friends,” Brooks said.
The New York native recalled his long struggle to get funding for his 1967 hit, The Producers, saying that Wilder never believed he’d be able to make the dream a reality. When Brooks finally got the good news, he delivered it to his friend who was backstage while performing in a play.
“He was taking off his makeup in his dressing room, and I took the script and I said, ‘Gene, we got the money, we’re going to make the movie. You are Leo Bloom.’ He burst into tears and held his face and cried and then I hugged him. It was a wonderful moment,” the Oscar winner recalled.
He also noted that Wilder came up for the idea for Young Frankenstein while the pair were working on the 1974 film Blazing Saddles.
“He said, ‘I had an idea. What if the grandson of Victor Frankenstein was a serious, brilliant surgeon and wanted nothing to do with the people that were responsible for making the monster and reanimating it? And he’s fighting it, but it’s in his blood,’” Brooks said. “I said, ‘That’s a terrific idea. You want to write it with me?’”
The pair wrote the script and earned an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.
Wilder passed away on Monday at the age of 83 after suffering complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
For more on Wilder’s life and greatest loves, watch the video below!