Despite a career spanning more than five decades, Gene Wilder was best known to millions around the world as eccentric Willy Wonka in 1971’s Oscar-nominated Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.
And it was this role that possibly meant the most to the actor, who has sadly passed away at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Gene’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, the star was diagnosed with the degenerative illness three years ago, though he chose to keep his diagnosis secret to protect the memory of the now iconic character for children the world over.
‘He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,’ Jordan revealed in a statement released on Tuesday.
Jordan went on to explain that the disease never affected his uncle’s gentle personality, adding that he continued to enjoy ‘kissing with his leading lady of the last 25 years, Karen’ right up until the end.
‘He danced down a church aisle at a wedding as a parent of the groom and ring bearer, held countless afternoon movie western marathons and delighted in the company of beloved ones.
‘He was 83 and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember.’
Rather fittingly, Wilder passed away in Stamford, Connecticut to the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
He leaves behind wife Karen Boyer and daughter Katherine Wilder