The Candy Man has left us. Gene Wilder passed away yesterday at the age of 83. Some would call that a long-lived life but I’m greedy. Even though Mr. Wilder had retired from film for quite a few years, he was still active in writing books.
My first exposure to Mr. Wilder, as was I suspect many children, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. It was one of my favorite films growing up even with the scary boat ride scene. Children of my generation were not spared the edited version sans chicken beheading. His portrayal of the whimsical Roald Dahl character brought to energetic life captivated a generation.
The next film I saw him in was a Mel Brooks comedy, Blazing Saddles. I was about 6 or 7. You may say that I was too young to experience a film with such language that would make a sailor blush (Future movie that can’t be remade?) and broad comedy far out of my league of understanding, however I say that it impressed upon me the ability to laugh at something that was intended to be funny and not simply focus on vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake. What few people know is that this was supposed to be the first Wilder/Pryor team up, of which we would get many down the line to great comedic effect.
Mr. Wilder also worked with Mel Brooks on classic comedies such as The Producers and Young Frankenstein, the latter of which Wilder had to convince Brooks to do as he had little faith at the time. And for that Mr. Wilder, we are eternally grateful. Mr. Wilder also made massive donations for cancer research as his mother and wife, Gilda Radner, another comedic giant, lost their battle with ovarian cancer.
So today, I ask that we not mourn the loss of a great comedic genius, but to celebrate his life. We should look back fondly on the life and career of a great, kind, and generous man as I feel that’s what he truly would have wanted. I can’t say this for sure of course as I had never met him personally. However, A man doesn’t spend decades giving the more gut-busting laughs than it could handle in the hopes that the world will stop living when he’s gone. Godspeed, Mr. Wilder. Gilda and Richard are waiting for you.