7 Gene Wilder Roles We’ll Never Forget

Iconic moments from the comic legend’s blazing career

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Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Credit: IMDB

As you’ve likely heard by now, actor Gene Wilder has died at age 83 from complications from Alzheimer's disease. The Internet is aflood with obituaries highlighting the career of this sly comic genius. Which is as it should be. 

“With his unkempt hair and big, buggy eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as [Mel] Brooks could devise,” Sandy Cohen wrote for the Associated Press. “But he also knew how to keep it cool as the boozy gunslinger in Blazing Saddles or the charming candy man in the children's favorite Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

If you were alive during the 1970s, you couldn’t miss Wilder, who spent his later years promoting cancer research in honor of his late wife Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer.

Here’s a look back at seven of his most iconic roles.

1. 1967: Bonnie and Clyde

Gene Wilder with the cast of Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Credit: filmfanatic.org

Role: Eugene Grizzard

Why it’s memorable: In his first feature film, Wilder made his mark as a frightened young man taken hostage by the outlaws.

Great line: “I'm an undertaker.”

2. 1967: The Producers

Gene Wilder in The Producers (1968)

Credit: IMDB

Role: Leo Bloom

Why it’s memorable: Wilder’s portrayal of the frantic accountant was his first collaboration with director Mel Brooks.

Great line: “I'm in pain and I'm wet and I'm still hysterical!”

3. 1971: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Gene Wilder

Credit: IMDB

Role: Willy Wonka

Why it’s memorable: Playing an off-kilter candy purveyor, Wilder made this Roald Dahl book adaptation a beloved kid’s classic.

Great line: “The suspense is terrible. ... I hope it'll last.”

4. 1972: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask

Gene Wilder in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

Credit: IMDB

Role: Dr. Ross

Why it’s memorable: He's in love with a sheep. Woody Allen directs.

Great line: “This is Mrs. Bencours, one of my patients. She thinks she's a sheep.”

5. 1974: Blazing Saddles

Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles (1974)

Credit: IMDB

Role: Jim

Why it’s memorable: Wilder re-teamed with Mel Brooks, playing a drunken gunslinger, in this spoof satirizing the racism of classic westerns.

Great line: “Oh no, don't do that, don't do that. If you shoot him, you'll just make him mad.”

6. 1974: Young Frankenstein

Teri Garr, Gene Wilder, and Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein (1974)

Credit: IMDB

Role: Dr. Frankenstein

Why it’s memorable: Wilder received his second Oscar nomination for co-writing this script about the great-grandson of Frankenstein, which is chock-full of laughs, with Mel Brooks.

Great line: “No, it's pronounced "Fronkensteen."

7. 1980: Stir Crazy

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy (1980)

Credit: IMDB

Role: Skip Donahue

Why it’s memorable: Wilder co-starred with Richard Pryor in this buddy comedy about two East Coast guys who find themselves in a maximum security prison out west.

Great line: “This filthy, roach-ridden reality is inspiring. ... What did that second policeman say to you when he grabbed you by the throat?”


By Heidi Raschke
Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy.@heidiraschke

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