American Icon: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder on

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” – Willy Wonka

If you grew up in the 60s, 70s or 80s, a large piece of your childhood was lost yesterday with the passing of frizzy-haired, wide-eyed Gene Wilder. We’d like to think the comic icon is now sharing laughs with the love of his life, the equally talented Gilda Radner.

While she left him (and us) far too soon at the age of 42 in 1989, Wilder remained with us until the age of 83. Yet, his passing leaves a void in all of our lives.

He brought his charm, wit and magic to so many wonderful roles. He didn’t play Willy Wonka; he was Willy Wonka. It is that role which largely defined him for those of all ages; the movie transcends time, as captivating now as it was when it first came out 45 years ago.

There’s a power to the arts and, in particular, movies. When done right they inspire, taking us away to distant lands and allowing us to dream that the impossible is possible. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory did that and Wilder is a large reason why. If you were a kid, you wanted to go to The Chocolate Factory and you wanted to meet Willy Wonka.

Perhaps it’s because the actor who played him was not only likable, but passionate about his work. He seemed to enjoy what he was doing, throwing his every ounce of energy into his performances.

And isn’t that what life is about? Whatever you choose to do, you should love it. Whether he was playing Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein or Leopold Bloom in The Producers or The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles, Wilder showed audiences that passion. And he taught us that laughter was important.

Wilder once downplayed his humor, saying that “I’m funny on camera sometimes. In life, once in a while. Once in a while.” We prefer to think otherwise.

Wilder had a gift. Instead of keeping it to himself, he shared it with the world. And all of us are luckier for it. Thank you, Gene Wilder. RIP.

Words of an Icon: “Time is a precious thing. Never waste it.” – Gene Wilder