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"Well, let's play chess!" - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
"Well, let's play chess!"

Almost two-thirds done, and 2016 has claimed another legend. This one, though, was more of an act of mercy.  For years, we've seen little of Gene Wilder, and much of what we saw was a shadow of his once-great-performer self. Whether it was illness, or grief over losing the love of his life, was never said. But now we know:

According to Wilder’s nephew, Wilder died from complications from Alzheimer’s Disease, which he lived with for the last three years of his life.

“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him ‘there’s Willy Wonka,’ would not have to be then exposed to an adult, referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion,” Pearlman wrote. “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”

According to Mr. Pearlman, Wilder was listening to a recording of Ella Fitzgerald singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when he died.

His incarnation of Willy Wonka was the first thing I saw him in; I'd loved the book and thought the characterization was a good one.  History hasn't been kind to the version- partly because Roald Dahl disowned it, partly because of the retroactive racism from Dahl's original portrayal of the Oompa-Loompas that was not completely removed by making them orange. Yet generations of kids have gone on to love it, and particularly Wilder's depiction.

He made a far bigger contribution to Blazing Saddles, both on and off the screen. Mel Brooks has told the story many times: legendary actor Gig Young was to have played the Waco Kid, but method-acted the role a bit too well, passing out from alcohol withdrawal on the first day of shooting, and Mel desperately called Gene to fill in.  I somehow can't imagine an old coot pulling off this scene with Cleavon Little:

He of course made Young Frankenstein another classic, long after his Brooks partnership had begun with The Producers; and he had a four-film collaboration with Richard Pryor, all of which had their moments. Yet less spoken of are his contributions to The Little Prince, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, and a sweet remake of a French film with him, Charles Grodin and Kelly LeBrock as the titular Woman in Red- his second, and second-to-last, turn as a director. His last one was Haunted Honeymoon, a love letter to his Gilda and with Dom DeLuise getting to mug again for the camera; the film was a box-office and critical dud, but that's okay, Gene: you're now reunited with Gilda and Dom (as well as Cleavon and Richard and Madeline), and, well, we'll always have the Transylvania Station to remember you by:

Rest well, Gene.
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