The Jewish star, born Jerome Silberman and known for his roles in an array of classic films — from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” to “Young Frankenstein” to “Stir Crazy” — succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, which his family said he had suffered from for three years.
If the news itself doesn’t moisten your tear ducts, get this: Wilder’s nephew said in a statement that the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was playing in the room as the actor passed away.
Mel Brooks, the Jewish comedy legend who collaborated with Wilder in a series of comedic triumphs (“Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” and “The Producers,” in which he co-starred with Zero Mostel), was one of the first to react to the somber news in touching fashion.
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.— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) August 29, 2016
But countless other celebrities (including several Jewish ones) also took to Twitter to pay heartfelt tributes to the actor once described by The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael as a “magnetic blur” who made barely controlled hysteria “his dazzling specialty.”
A man who lit up the world with his joy and genius. I can’t say what it meant to act with him and get to know his heart. ❤️RIP #GeneWilder— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) August 29, 2016Thank you Gene Wilder for the wonderful, the weird, the pure imagination. One of my greatest heroes. — josh groban (@joshgroban) August 29, 2016If there is a better dual comedic performance in film than the late Gene Wilder with Zero Mostel, please send DVD ASAP #RIP#IFellOnMyKeys— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) August 29, 2016Gene Wilder–
There are no words–
Brilliantly brilliant— Jeffrey Tambor (@jeffreytambor) August 29, 2016Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there’s a heaven he has a Golden Ticket. ;^)— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) August 29, 2016He was always able to make us smile, and that is no small feat. Rest with the stars, Gene Wilder. pic.twitter.com/kxis66bIGd— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) August 29, 2016The genius, the talent, the actor, the original, the artist, the storyteller, the creative, the iconic, the great, great, great Gene Wilder.— Uzo Aduba (@UzoAduba) August 29, 2016RIP #GeneWilder absolute master. Brilliant in so many ways. His life’s work is timeless and everlasting. pic.twitter.com/hYHYk8hm4h— John Cena (@JohnCena) August 29, 2016GENE WILDER, the face of childhood joy for many a generation, has passed. Farewell, sweet genius. Gilda awaits you. https://t.co/pybXNFlGaq— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) August 29, 2016