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The Playlist

A Playlist to Honor Gene Wilder

  • Over The Rainbow Ella Fitzgerald

    According to his family, Wilder's favorite song, "Over the Rainbow" by Ella Fitzgerald, played as he passed. The family held hands with Wilder and quietly sang along.

  • Blazing Saddles Frankie Laine

    This song pays tribute to Wilder's comedic genius in Blazing Saddles.

  • Honey (Touch Me With My Clothes On) Gilda Radner

    Wilder called is first wife - comedian and actress, Gilda Radner - his "forever love". This song, performed by his lost love, belongs on his last soundtrack.

  • Stormy Weather Ethel Waters

    This song was number one on the charts the year Gene Wilder was born.

  • Puttin' On The Ritz Roger Bart

    Mel Brooks' "The Producers", was Wilder's first major role, inspiring us to include this in our tribute to him.

  • Opening Night: Lobby, Overture - (From "The Producers") Zero Mostel

    Wilder recounted that he argued until he was blue in the face, persuading Mel Brooks to include this hilarious version of 'Puttin' On The Ritz' in the classic "Young Frankenstein".

  • You've Got A Friend James Taylor

    This song represents a loving relationship in times of hardship- resembling that of Wilder and his mother.

  • Pure Imagination - From "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" Soundtrack Gene Wilder

    Wilder's nephew revealed that "the actor had chosen to keep his Alzheimer's secret so that children who knew him as Willy Wonka would not equate the whimsical character with an adult disease." The song 'Pure Imagination' is pure Gene Wilder.

My Playlist in Spotify

In This 2005 Interview, Gene Wilder Explains How He Learned To Get Laughs


All About Gene

Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman to a Jewish family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 11, 1933. Gene's passion for acting and comedy began at a young age. His mother was plagued with rheumatic heart disease throughout his childhood and was often sick. A doctor told him "Don't ever argue with your might kill her. Try to make her laugh." And that is what he did. After briefly attending a military academy in California, Wilder returned to Milwaukee and joined the local theatre group.

Gene attended the University of Iowa after graduating high school and studied communication and theater arts. After this, he moved to the UK and studied theater and fencing at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School for one year. Upon returning to the U.S., Wilder planned to study the Stanislavski method of acting. However, he was drafted into the Army where he worked as a medic in Pennsylvania for 2 years. Following his time in the army, Wilder moved to New York City to pursue his dream of acting.

It was in New York, at age 26, when Wilder decided he needed a stage name. Thus Jerry Silberman became Gene Wilder. Wilder then began appearing regularly in off-Broadway and Broadway productions. During one performance he met Anne Bancroft; she was dating Mel Brooks at the time. The two hit it off immediately and Brooks decided to cast Wilder in the screenplay he was writing, The Producers. While the film itself was a flop, Wilder earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor and quickly became a hot commodity for comedy roles in Hollywood. One such role was as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He did an incredible job bringing to life the quirky and wild character, establishing him as leading man while also earning him a Golden Globe nomination for best actor.

While Wilder garnered much personal success during this era, it wasn't until 1972 and beyond that his career really took off. Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask and Mel Brooks 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles skyrocketed Wilder's success. Wilder was busy during this time with those films along with many others such as Rhinoceros, Young Frankenstein and many films with Richard Pryor such as Stir Crazy (1980) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).

In 1981, Wilder co-starred with Gilda Radner (a comedian on Saturday Night Live). Although both were married at the time they fell madly in love, sought divorces and married in 1984. However, just 5 years later Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away in 1989. In her honor, Wilder started Gilda's Club, a support group for cancer patients. Two years learer he married Karen Webb, whom he stayed with until his death.

During the 1990s, Wilder was involved in many unsuccessful movies and TV shows. However in 1999, Wilder co-wrote and starred in an A&E original movie Murder in a Small Town. It became the second-highest rated A&E Original Movie. However, 1999 was not all fun and games. That same year Wilder was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma; he recovered with the help of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. As the 90's came to a close, Wilder finally retired from showbusiness saying: "I like show, but I don't like business."

Wilder continued writing throughout the early 2000s, publishing two novels and a collection of short stories. Gene lived out the rest of his live primarily out of the spotlight and public eye. He died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on August 28, 2016 in Stamford, Connecticut at the age of 83 at home with his family.

Scenes of a Lifetime

  • "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" - 1971

  • Gene and Gilda

  • Gene Wilder With Sidney Poitier, Richard Pryor, and Harry Belafonte in 1980

  • "The Producers" - 1967

  • “Young Frankenstein” - 1974. Gene not only starred in this movie but co-wrote this epic comedy with director Mel Brooks.

  • Gene Wilder and his wife Karen Boyer at a tennis match in 2007.

  • "Blazing Saddles" - 1974

  • Gene Wilder poses here with his autobiography, "Kiss Me Like a Stranger"

  • "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask" – 1972

  • "The Woman in Red" - 1984

  • The End

Gilda and Gene

A Forever Love

While Wilder married four times, he has always been very open about his "forever love" with late wife, comedian and actress, Gilda Radner. Radner passed away in 1989 from ovarian cancer. Following her death, Wildner dedicated much of his time and money to cancer research. He helped found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in LA and co-founded Gilda's Club, a support group to raise awareness of cancer which began in New York but now has branches throughout the country. 

Acting Wasn't Gene's Only Talent...

His Path to Fencing

When Gene attended school at the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England he soon picked up a new hobby: fencing. But it didn't take long for this hobby to become a skill...after six months, Wilder became the first freshman to win the All-School Fencing Championship. Later on, he also served as a fencing choreographer in movies.

Wilder Hid His Alzheimer's to Protect the Children

Pure Gene Wilder

The passing of Gene Wilder came as a surprise to many mainly because very few people outside his family knew he had Alzheimers. His nephew who was very close to him stated: "The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn't out of vanity, but more so that the countless young childre that would smile or call out to him 'there's Willy Wonka,' would not have to be exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble...he simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world."

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In memory of Gene Wilder