Gene Wilder Was Part of This World and Part of Another

With his wild hair and big, melancholic eyes, Gene Wilder had a unique nuttiness about him. From Dr. Ross to mad chocolatier Willy Wonka, the beloved actor perfected his roles and opened his viewers to a world of pure imagination. But beneath his kooky personas was a man far more interesting than any of his characters.

A portrait of Gene Wilder holding a blue rag up to his cheek / Gene Wilder feeding grapes to Gilda Radner / Gene Wilder and Kelly LeBrock in the film ‘The Woman in Red’ posing in front of an ocean view / Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka standing behind large lollypops / Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor on the red carpet together / Gene Wilder posing next to a lamp post outside
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Wilder was a true entertainer who dedicated his life to the art of making people smile. He went through innocence-shattering moments as a kid but picked himself up and made a promise to bring nothing but laughter into the world. Luckily for us, he succeeded.

In honor of this comic enigma, here are some fascinating bits about his life.

His Real Name Wasn’t Gene Wilder

Wilder felt that his birth name, Jerome Silberman, lacked the right ring to it. Even a play on his name, “Jerry,” didn’t make the cut. Instead, he adopted a stage name, a name we all grew to know and love – Gene Wilder. He chose to call himself Gene after Eugene, the lead character of Thomas Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel.

Gene Wilder’s yearbook photograph
Source: Twitter

Gene rounded up his name with Wilder after Thornton Wilder, a writer he greatly admired and the author of one of his favorite plays, Our Town. He officially became Gene Wilder in 1961, after he was accepted into Lee Strasberg’s esteemed Actor’s Studio in Manhattan.

He Was a Jewish-Buddhist-Atheist

Wilder was born in 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to a Jewish family. Despite his upbringing, Wilder never felt connected to a Jewish god. Or any other monotheistic god, for that matter. He wrote in his 2005 memoir: “I have no other religion. I feel very Jewish, and I feel very grateful to be Jewish. But I don’t believe in God or anything to do with the Jewish religion.”

A portrait of Gene Wilder
Source: Pinterest

Occasionally, the actor joked around and referred to himself as a “Jewish-Buddhist-Atheist.” But in truth, Wilder didn’t commit himself to any philosophy. The only thing he believed in was the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He Fell in Love with Acting by Trying to Make His Mom Laugh

When Wilder was eight years old, his mom suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Shocked and confused, the young boy was left wondering how to make her feel better. The doctor gave him some valuable advice: make her laugh.

Gene Wilder posing in front of a view of California from a porch
Photo by George Rose / Getty Images

For years, Wilder carried those words with him. He genuinely believed that laughter was a healing mechanism that had the power to prolong one’s life. Which, in a way, it really is. When eight-year-old Wilder saw his mom light up with laughter, he knew he wanted to make this his life’s work.

He Was Bullied for Being the Only Jewish Boy in School

Wilder’s mom, Jeanne Baer, knew that her son’s potential would go to waste in Wisconsin, so she talked her husband into sending him to Hollywood’s Black-Foxe Military Institute. Wilder was the only Jew in his new school, and sadly, this led to some ugly fights between him and his bullying peers.

Gene Wilder posing with his feet up on a table
Photo by Jean-Louis URLI / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

Wilder disclosed the beatings to his father, sending him heartbreaking letters about the daily bullying. But his dad kept it a secret from his mom, feeling it was better not to worry her weak heart. When he came home for the holidays, Wilder hid the bruises with long-sleeved shirts and bulky scarves. Eventually, his mom caught a glimpse of one of the purple marks and immediately pulled him out of the school.

His First Play Was Romeo and Juliet

After his short and painful stay at the Military Institute, Wilder returned home and found comfort in his town’s theater community. At only 15, he stepped on stage for the first time as Balthasar, Romeo’s servant in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Gene Wilder posing sitting in front of a piano
Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection / Getty Images

Gene’s stage debut brought a whole new meaning to his life. His involvement in the local theater scene lasted all through high school and colored his adolescence with vibrant creativity and passion. He later applied to the University of Iowa, where he studied Communication and Theatre Arts.

He Was a Fencing Champion

Straight out of Iowa, Wilder flew to England, where he spent a year at the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol. Apart from acting, Wilder picked up a new hobby – fencing. After six short months of swift lunges, he became the school’s first freshman to be crowned champion.

Gene Wilder fencing
Source: Pinterest

Through the years, Wilder put his skillful fencing to good use, serving as a fencing choreographer in several films and working as a teacher to help him stay afloat in his early days when he first tried to break into the industry.

His Little-Known Military Life

Wilder’s first taste of military life in Black-Foxe was pretty traumatic (anti-Semitic bullying and all). But his second experience was, luckily, very different. He was drafted into the US Army in 1956, where he successfully completed his training and joined the medical corps.

Gene Wilder smiling with his hand on his cheek
Photo by Rick Diamond / Getty Images

The new soldier was allowed to choose whichever post he preferred out of the available ones. Wilder chose Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where he served as a paramedic in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Valley Forge Army Hospital.

He Learned a Lot by Treating Psychiatric Patients

Wilder took on some eccentric roles in his lively career. From sheep-loving Dr. Ross to Jim, a.k.a Waco Kid, his roles required a high degree of madness. Wilder admitted that the time he spent in the military treating psychiatric patients helped him tremendously to get into character.

Gene Wilder sitting on top of a moose head mounted on a wall
Photo by Orion / Getty Images

His years at the psychiatry center exposed him to the broad spectrum of mental disorders and the spontaneous, confusing, and mysterious behavior of many of his patients. Incredibly, Wilder used art and acting to raise awareness on mental illness, a topic many of us prefer to shy away from.

He Agreed to Play Willy Wonka Under One Condition

In 1971, Wilder auditioned for the part of Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When director Mel Stuart heard Wilder recite his lines, he knew he had his guy. As Wilder walked out of the room, Mel chased him down and offered him the role on the spot.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka sitting on the edge of the boat
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Wilder said he would agree to do it under one condition. He wanted to make Willy Wonka’s first entrance in the movie memorable by fooling the crowd. He wanted to step outside with a cane and convince everyone he had a disability by limping towards them, only to end his walk with an incredible forward somersault and a fascinated round of applause.

His True Thoughts on Willy Wonka

Gene Wilder perfected his role as coocoo chocolatier Willy Wonka. He skipped, sang, got into a trance, and introduced us all to a delicious wonderland. It was practically impossible not to fall in love with him and even harder to try and describe him. But Wilder managed to do so perfectly.

Gene Wilder with the children of Willy Wonka around him about to go through a short door
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

“[Willy Wonka is] an eccentric – where there’s no telling what he’ll do,” he stated in a letter he wrote in 1970. Wilder described the crazy character as “part of this world, part of another … Something mysterious, yet undefined.” A perfect description!

He Didn’t Like Burton’s Remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Gene Wilder wasn’t too excited about the 2005 remake of the film. He told IGN, “The thing that put me off … I like Johnny Depp, I like him, as an actor I like him very much … but when I saw little pieces in the promotion of what he was doing, I said I don’t want to see the film, because I don’t want to be disappointed in him.”

Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, and David Kelly looking downward in a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Source: / Copyright: Warner Bros

In 2013, Wilder called the remake “an insult.” He criticized Burton’s directing and accused the filmmakers of shooting the remake just to make money. Johnny Depp was greatly disappointed by Wilder’s comment and said that it wasn’t necessarily a remake but a new adaptation.

A Woman’s Man

Gene Wilder had a great capacity to love and be loved, and the women around him always felt that. His first wife was Mary Mercier, an actress and playwright he met in New York and married in 1960. After five years, the pair divorced.

Gene Wilder with a woman on set during filming
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

He said “I do” to his second wife, Mary Joan Schultz, in 1967, and for seven years, they lived together as a family along with Mary’s daughter from her previous marriage. Wilder wrote about their divorce in his book, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, and told The New York Daily that he hoped the book would “explain some things.”

Wilder’s Estranged Daughter

It didn’t take long for Mary Joan Schultz’s daughter, Katherine, to refer to Wilder as her dad. She looked up to her new father figure and found peace in his arms. But as her parent’s marriage began to crumble, so did her trust and tranquility.

Katherine and Gene Wilder at a dinner event together
Katherine and Gene Wilder. Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

She suspected that Wilder was cheating on her mom with Madeline Khan, his co-star in the film Young Frankenstein. Eventually, Katherine cut off all contact with him. Wilder admitted he never got over their terrible farewell.

Gene Turned Gilda Radner’s World Technicolor

Wilder met his third wife, Gilda Radner, in 1982 on the set of Hanky Panky. Two years later, they tied the knot. “I had been a fan of Gene Wilder’s for many years, but the first time I saw him, my heart fluttered – I was hooked. It felt like my life went from black and white to Technicolor,” Radner wrote in her memoir.

Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner posing next to green leaves holding an apple
Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner. Photo by Micheline Pelletier / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

Wilder was equally invested in the relationship and often described his time with her as the best years of his life. Five years into their marriage, Gilda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and on May 20th, 1989, she passed away.

After Gilda’s Death, Gene Wilder Screamed at the Walls

Wilder struggled to make sense of his wife’s death. How could such a vibrant, funny human being disappear just like that? He told People Magazine, “For weeks after Gilda died, I was shouting at the walls. I kept thinking to myself, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’”

Gene Wilder hugging Gilda from behind while holding a heart pillow
Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner. Photo by Micheline Pelletier / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

Wilder believed that Gilda didn’t have to die so young (only 42). He blamed his ignorance, the doctor’s, and even Gilda’s ignorance for how things ended. “She could be alive today if I knew then what I know now,” he sadly mentioned.

He Raised Awareness for Ovarian Cancer

Wilder saw two women he loved lose their lives to this specific type of cancer: his mom in 1957, and Gilda, in 1989. Heartbroken and fed up with the world’s lack of awareness on the subject, he founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles.

Gene Wilder holding up a copy of his book in front of a photograph of himself
Photo by Charley Gallay / Getty Images

Wilder sparked a much-needed discussion on the topic and even wrote a book with oncologist Steven Piver called Gilda’s Disease (1998). The book is described as a “compassionate and comprehensive look” at this unfortunate illness.

Wilder Never Imagined He Would Fall in Love Again

Wilder’s nephew told People Magazine that his uncle wasn’t sure he would ever fall in love again after Gilda’s death. He was scared to go out on dates and doubted anyone would excite him like Gilda did. But all that changed in 1989 when he met his fourth love, Karen Boyer.

Gene Wilder and Karen Boyer laughing together in the stadium at a tennis match
Gene Wilder and Karen Boyer. Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Boyer, a speech consultant, walked into Wilder’s life while researching his 1989 film, See No Evil, Hear No Evil. “Once he [Wilder] realized he could date, he didn’t want to date anyone but Karen,” his nephew revealed.

Wilder and Boyer Dedicated Their Lives to Each Other

Wilder and Boyer married in 1991 and remained together for 25 years until he passed away in 2016. His marriage to Boyer gave him an immense amount of tranquility, a genuine sense of peace he had not experienced before.

Gene Wilder and Karen Boyer watching a tennis match together
Gene Wilder and Karen Boyer. Photo by Uri Schanker / GC Images / Getty Images

The powerful bond they formed was extremely moving. Boyer told ABC that the first twenty years of their marriage were the happiest ones of her life. They traveled the world together, painted side by side in the garden, and danced under the moonlit sky.

Living with Alzheimer’s Disease

Wilder’s first signs of trouble were small yet concerning. Boyer mentioned how Wilder’s spatial perception grew shaky, causing him to miscalculate the distance from the objects around him. His personality began to change, and he lashed out at people for no particular reason.

Gene Wilder in 2010 sitting behind a desk
Gene Wilder 2010. Photo by Dr Billy Ingram / WireImage / Getty Images

When Wilder received the news of his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, he was overwhelmed, but according to Boyer, he took it with “astonishing grace.” He accepted his new reality and did his best to remain calm and joyful despite his gradually worsening condition.

Alzheimer’s Robbed Him of Many of His Memories, But Some Remained

Alzheimer’s disease gradually took over Wilder’s life and robbed him of his ability to perform basic tasks, like how to tie his shoelaces or remove his wristwatch. But incredibly, there were certain things he never forgot. Flickers of his old movies still remained.

Gene Wilder with Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Mel Brooks, and Peter Bole behind the scenes of the film Young Frankenstein
Gene Wilder with Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Mel Brooks, and Peter Bole on Young Frankenstein’s set. Source: / Copyright: Twentieth Century Fox

Despite not remembering the names of the movies he starred in, he remembered his lines. When he was sitting with friends one evening, Young Frankenstein’s topic came up, and he couldn’t wrap his head around the movie, so he acted it out instead.

When Did Gene Wilder Die?

Gene Wilder died at the age of 83, on the 29th of August 2016, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He lay in his bed in Stanford, Connecticut, surrounded by his family, with one of his favorite songs playing in the background – Ella Fitzgerald’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Gene Wilder on the red carpet in 2013
Gene Wilder 2013. Photo by John Lamparski / WireImage / Getty Images

Wilder struggled with Alzheimer’s for three years before his passing. But he never made it public because he didn’t want kids to mix Willy Wonka with confusion, worry, and a loss of identity. He wanted people to remember him as a person who brought joy and wonder to the world.

His Last Words

Wilder had not spoken for several days before his death. But when he lay in bed during those last moments, he looked into his wife’s eyes and managed to mutter, “I trust you.” Boyer took those words to heart, and after his passing, she dedicated herself to projects centering around the disease.

Karen Boyer and Gene Wilder watching a tennis match in 2008
Karen Boyer and Gene Wilder 2008. Photo by Nick Laham / Getty Images

She participated in the Pure Imagination Project, a video that launched during National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. “When I saw this campaign, I knew that it brilliantly and beautifully captured all that Alzheimer’s can take away, and my hope is that it will motivate people to learn more and to seek to change the course of this disease for future generations,” she said.

He Never Had Biological Kids, But He Was Everyone’s Dad

Katherine was Wilder’s daughter for several years until he divorced her mom (and all contact was lost). Afterward, Wilder tried to have children with Gilda, but sadly, she suffered two miscarriages before being diagnosed with cancer.

Katherine and Gene Wilder looking at something sitting at a table during an event
Katherine and Gene Wilder. Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

As life would have it, Wilder never managed to have any kids of his own. But he was the onscreen dad of many children who looked up to him and his honest, playful personality. Regardless, we have no doubt in our minds that he would have been an incredible dad.

Why Did Gene Wilder Stop Acting?

Gene Wilder went into acting to spread love, laughter, and a warm sense of togetherness. But as the years went by, he began to feel like he didn’t belong in the film industry anymore. Their aggressive, loud, and forceful content was too much for him.

Gene Wilder behind a camera on the set of a movie 1984
Photo by Orion / Getty Images

In 2013, Time Out Magazine inquired about the actor’s disappearance from the screens. He responded, “I’m tired of watching the bombing, shooting, killing, swearing, and 3-D. I get 52 movies a year sent to me, and maybe there are three good [ones]. That’s why I went into writing.”

Mel Brooks Thinks Gene Wilder Was Magical

Wilder’s sweet and somewhat sad blue eyes charmed Brooks the second they met. He told the actor that he saw him as “a sheep surrounded by wolves.” Wilder went on to star in three of Brook’s films: The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein.

Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks on stage at an event in 2007
Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks. Photo by Bruce Glikas / FilmMagic / Getty Images

After Wilder’s passing, Brooks tweeted in tribute to his beloved collaborator: “Gene Wilder – One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.”

Willy Wonka’s Kids Said He Was the Nicest Man on Set

The cast of Willy Wonka had a blast working with Wilder. After his passing, Oompa Loompa star, Rusty Goffe, paid his respects by saying: “Gene Wilder was one of the nicest, if not the nicest, actor I have ever worked with. A true star. Thank you, Mr. Wonka.”

Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum and Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket on the set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Denise Nickerson, who played bubble gum fanatic Violet Beauregarde, tweeted: “You were so talented and kind-hearted.” And Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt, told the BBC: “[Wilder] was a very kind, endearing, and patient man.”

The Burden of Comedy

Wilder felt that people’s biggest misconception about him was thinking of him as this cheerful and funny guy. “What a comic, what a funny guy, all that stuff! And I’m not. I’m really not. Except in a comedy in films,” he told Robert Osborne in 2013.

Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel enjoying a hot dog from a vendor on the set of The Producers
Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel on the set of The Producers. Photo by John Springer Collection / Corbis / Getty Images

Wilder was humble and surprisingly very private. When people would come up to Wilder and gush over how he made them laugh, calling him “the funniest guy ever,” he would usually respond with, “I’m not, really. I’m quite private, but I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the movies.”

Gene Wilder Was Like a Father to His Onset Love, Kelly LeBrock

Actress Kelly LeBrock was Gene’s love interest in the 1984 film, The Woman in Red. The young beauty was a wonder to look at, but Kelly revealed that the duo’s relationship was far from sexual. “He was like a father to me. He encouraged me when I was nervous on stage and supported me off it,” she told The Guardian.

Gene Wilder and Kelly LeBrock in the film ‘The Woman in Red’ posing in front of an ocean view
Photo by Orion / Getty Images

The last time Kelly saw Wilder was four years before his death, on a flight to Bermuda. Funny enough, she was wearing red (a color she barely wears). Seeing him frail and thin came as a shock, but as she held his hand, she immediately sensed that same warmth she felt with him all those years ago.

The Forgotten Art of Gene Wilder

Gilda Radner gifted Wilder a precious little present on his birthday – a case with two brushes, watercolor paper, and eight colors. Wilder cherished his humble gift and developed his skills by taking lessons and progressing to portraits.

Gene Wilder standing in front of Frankenstein on a surgical table
Photo by 20th Century Fox / Archive Photos / Getty Images

In a conversation about art and creativity, Wilder told the Hartford Courant, “Artistic energy is like a sexual drive to me. It’s always there.” He described his paintings as “romantic realism” and said that seeing watercolors spread onto a paper is like watching magic unfold.

Wilder’s First Novel

Wilder wrote several books in his career. Some were nonfiction, while others were witty and funny made-up stories. He published his first novel in 2007 called My French Whore, which critics described as a “sweet, well-written book with perfect dialogues.”

Gene Wilder holding up another one of his books
Photo by MJ Kim / Getty Images

In Gene’s words: “My French Whore is my memo to the masses who cried out Give us more of the same! Very well, liebchens. Would you like to re-live the black comedy of The Producers? I give you the madcap tale of an American soldier who impersonates a German spy with hilarious but somber results.”

He Never Regretted Turning Down a Role

Turning down roles in the industry is tricky. And more often than not, actors find themselves looking back in despair at the Oscar-nominated roles that were almost theirs. But Gene Wilder wasn’t one of them. In an interview with Larry King, he shared his thoughts on the parts he never got to play.

Gene Wilder in a hat and jacket in a scene from Another You 1991
Photo by TriStar / Getty Images

“I’ve turned down lots of movies, but none that I felt sorry about,” he told King. However, Gene revealed there were movies he wanted to do but wasn’t offered the part. Like Joe Levine’s 1978 film, Magic. Wilder also admitted he would have loved to do a comedy with Emma Thompson.

The One Time He Was Turned Down for Being Funny

When you think of Gene Wilder, you instantly smile. It’s hard not to, thanks to the numerous comedies and hilarious roles he’s done. But being known as “the funny guy” is a dangerous box to find yourself in. Luckily, Wilder never really struggled with it. Except for one time.

Anthony Hopkins holding a puppet in a scene from Magic
Anthony Hopkins in ‘Magic.’ Source: / Copyright: 20th Century Fox

He wanted to act in the horror film Magic (1978) but was turned down by the film’s producer Joe Levine who told him, “You’re a great actor Gene Wilder. [But] no, I don’t want any comedians!” Other than that, Wilder never really felt like he was discriminated for being funny.

His Chemistry with Richard Pryor Was a Mystery

When Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor first met on Silver Streak’s set in 1976, their instant click was startling. They brought the best out of each other, improvising many of the lines in perfect spontaneity. Wilder felt that they had the same type of silliness.

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor laughing together on the set of Silver Streak
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor on the set of Silver Streak. Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images

“We never talked about anything to do with improvising. It just happened. I didn’t do that with other people. In a sense, it was like a sexual attraction. That is, the chemistry,” he told journalist Gregg LaGambina. In total, the unconventional duo starred in four movies together.

New York’s Stages or Los Angeles’ Movies?

In an interview with Little White Lies, Wilder was asked whether he preferred New York’s stages over Los Angeles’ movies. For the eccentric actor, the answer was a no-brainer: “Only New York.” His feelings towards LA were a bit…meh.

Gene Wilder having a intense conversation with Richard Pryor in a scene from See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Photo by Ron Galella Ltd / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Wilder knew that meeting filmmakers in LA meant dealing with silly remarks he didn’t have the patience for, like, “I hear you’re a funny guy.” The actor felt that seeing him in a play was the only way for people to really get to know him as a performer.

Mel Brooks Wasn’t Too Sure About Young Frankenstein

In the early ‘70s, Wilder came up with a kooky idea of having Victor Frankenstein’s grandson inherit the mansion and continue his research. He wrote his story and pitched it to Mel Brooks. Brooks, however, wasn’t too thrilled about it… at first.

Gene Wilder and Teri Garr standing over Frankenstein
Photo by FilmPublicity / Archive / United Archives / Getty Images

The Frankenstein craze was everywhere, so creating another film related to the used-up story could end up being a serious flop. But Wilder insisted that his story was something else. He told Brooks that Frankenstein’s grandson didn’t want anything to do with his wacko family! The idea made Brooks laugh, so he agreed to do it.

It Wasn’t Easy to Get in Bed with a Sheep

In 1972, Wilder starred in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), where he played the role of Dr. Ross. There was honestly no other person who could have nailed the part like Wilder.

Gene Wilder with the sheep sitting in a bed
Source: / Copyright: United Artists

His bizarre character is a doctor who’s a little too fond of his pet sheep. “That’s not an easy task, being in bed with a sheep, especially if you make the sheep nervous. I’m not going to go on if you know what I’m talking about,” Wilder told CNN in 2002.

Gene Wilder Wasn’t Brooks First Pick for Waco Kid

Wilder was determined to play in Brook’s Blazing Saddles, and he had just one role in mind: Waco kid. But Brooks wanted an older guy, “someone who could look like an over-the-hill alcoholic,” he told Wilder. Brooks thought of Dan Dailey, John Wayne, or Johnny Carson.

Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles
Source: / Copyright: Warner Bros

After all of them declined, Brooks turned to Gig Young, an Oscar-winner with a serious drinking problem. Young agreed, but his first day on set made Brooks regret he ever offered him the part. He came in ill with withdrawal symptoms. Exhausted and disappointed, Brooks called his good friend, Wilder, who gladly responded with, “I know, Mel, I’m the Waco Kid. You need me, I’II be there.”

He Almost Played in Trading Places

Trading Places is one of the greatest comedies to come out of the ‘80s. The movie centers around two brothers, who were originally supposed to be played by Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. So, how did it end up being Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd?

Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dan Aykroyd in a scene from Trading Places
Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dan Aykroyd in ‘Trading Places.’ Photo by Paramount Pictures / Getty Images

Sadly, Pryor’s drug abuse got the best of him, and by the time the movie’s shooting began, he was too zoned out to do it. The movie ended up being an incredible financial success, but there’s no doubt that Wilder and Pryor could have done an equally good (dare I say…better?) job.

Gene Wilder’s Search for Love and Art

Wilder introduced us to the inner workings of his mind in 2005, when he published his memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art. The actor wrote about his personal experiences, from his many romantic loves to funny stories about the people he’s worked with.

Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn with a fur shawl in a scene from Young Frankenstein
Photo by FilmPublicity / Archive / United Archives / Getty Images

The witty memoir is packed with insightful little gems, all written with tremendous humility. It’s a reflective piece written by an incredible actor, a gentle human being, and a wonderful teacher. A perfect read for whoever wants to know a little bit more about this true star.