The performances that proved Gene Wilder’s comic genius
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

As you have probably already heard this morning, Gene Wilder, the original Willy Wonka and legendary comedy actor, has sadly passed away at the age of 83.

The world really is a darker place for this loss.

Gen Wilder getty

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The actor achieved notable fame on Broadway before making the transition to the silver screen, where he shared billing with fellow comedy greats like Richard Pryor, and was even nominated for two Academy Awards.

In tribute, here are four iconic performances that proved Gene Wilder’s comic genius.

Leo Bloom in The Producers

Mel Brooks’ 1967 comedy classic saw Wilder step into the shoes of skittish, neurotic accountant Leo Bloom, and he did a perfect job in creating a character that Woody Allen would seemingly replicate for years to come.

Renowned critic Roger Ebert named the film “one of the funniest movies ever made”, and that’s no small statement.

Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

Gene Wilder frankenstein

Those years of Broadway training didn’t go to waste for Wilder, who made cracking use out of his musical training a few times in Young Frankenstein, where he portrayed an American descendant of the mad, re-animating scientist.

Wilder’s iteration was brilliantly hilarious, and boisterous throughout, providing us with catchy tunes (see here) and snatching the spotlight for sure.

Jim in Blazing Saddles

Giving a recovering alcoholic a loaded gun might sound like a recipe for misery, but when Wilder’s involved, it becomes a whole other ball game.

His Jim, in 1974’s Blazing Saddles, was a (slightly unhinged) ex-alcoholic gunslinger, on the mend and looking to regain his reputation as the “fastest gun in the West”.

Correction: “the fastest gun in the world”. Sorry.

Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Wilder’s Willy Wonka was weird and wonderful, but also surprisingly complex.

Two parts whimsical to one part unnerving, his turn in the adaptation of the classic children’s novel proved nearly as frightening as it was laughable. And that was its genius.

Remember the first time you saw the tunnel scene as a child? We didn’t know whether we should be crying or giggling, but the intense red glow soon wore off, and we were left with a fantastically eccentric chocolate factory owner.

Simply brilliant.

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