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Put the Candle Back!

Please? I’m in mourning. One of the best comedic actors of our time passed away yesterday, and I wasn’t ready to say “goodbye.”

Every movie of Gene Wilder’s was delightful, and I mean that in the true definition of the word. He gave great pleasure to millions of people over several generations. He was a phenomenal actor, who starred in so many Mel Brooks’ comedies it was if they were related. Mr. Melvin James Kaminsky and Mr. Jerome Silberman; two Jewish kids ridiculing society. What could have been more fun?

Gene Wilder apparently suffered from Alzheimer's. He never came forward with his diagnosis because, according to NPR, “. . . he never lost his instinct or sense or sensibility; it occurred to him that if that disease were made public, as regards him, that then after that smile, some parent may then say something about disease or sadness. And he was such that he could not bear to be responsible for one less smile in the world.”

What an incredible man! Long before Universal Pictures brought Harry Potter to life in a way that entranced audiences while simultaneously respecting the author’s intent, Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka expanded the imaginations of children all over the world. My grown kids can still quote the genius chocolatier a couple of decades after watching him. Gene Wilder had the quirkiness needed to play the obviously eccentric character Roald Dahl had in mind when he imagineered him in 1964.

I go on about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but Wilder starred in so many other hilarious satires, (both Brooksean and others), it’s difficult to pick a favorite. If you've never watched See No Evil, Hear No Evil, where deaf Wilder’s character pairs with a blind Richard Pryor, you haven’t experienced true comedy. (It’s available for free on YouTube, BTW!) It never got the ratings Stir Crazy garnered, but is worth the watch, nonetheless.

Despite all of his acting accolades, as an aspiring writer I want to speak about his writing mastery. After releasing the memoir Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, a biography of his early childhood through the loss of his beloved wife Gilder Radner, of Saturday Night Live fame, he went on to publish three novels and a short story compendium. When interviewed by Alec Baldwin for Turner Classic Movies about acting, he responded, “I don't like show business . . . I like show, but I don't like the business.”

Instead, this wonderful man dedicated his life to good causes. He was a passionate advocate for the families affected by the travesty of 9/11, and continuously advocated for research of ovarian cancer; the disease that took Gilda Radner from him after just seven years of marriage.

He wrote numerous screenplays and works of fiction, which makes him a pretty awesome guy in my book. He may have now joined Gilda, Pryor, Belushi and Williams in the Improv of the Sky, but he’ll always have ownership of a piece of my heart! What’s your favorite Gene Wilder movie? Feel free to post an homage below!

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