Tuesday, September 6, 2016

“Wonka” actors offer tribute to Gene Wilder

“Wonka” actors offer tribute to Gene Wilder

With the recent death of Gene Wilder, apparently to complications related to Alzheimer’s, the entertainment industry lost a true giant, a performer beloved by generations for very different reasons.

Legacy. It’s one of the most coveted words in entertainment. It’s one thing to be rich and famous when you’re producing art, but most artists hope their work continues long after they leave the limelight. If anyone could make that claim, it was Gene Wilder. The multi-talented funnyman with the infectious smile and the kind heart touched everyone who worked with him and tens of millions who count his movies among their very favorites.

Now some of the folks who worked with Wilder in those iconic films are breaking their silence to honor a man they say lit up their lives.

Michael Bollner played Augustus Gloop in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Here’s what he said to BBC reporters: “I was very sad of course. We knew he was quite ill and had not been out in public for some time. It was disappointing not to see him on screen these last few years. He was a great guy. We had a lot of fun making the movie…”

Julie Cole played Veruca Salt: “I really think that I got the Golden Ticket. We were just so fortunate to be in such a wonderful environment, and Gene was always kind to us… He could be so many different things but yet as a man he was so soft-spoken and kind and the complete antithesis of what you see during those mad moments as Willy Wonka…”

Many news reports after Wilder’s death published other epitaphs and memorials such as these. People who worked with Gene loved him. Those who watched his movies felt like they knew him. But one of the most revealing Wilder moments came after his death.

Wilder’s nephew was said to be watching over his uncle, speaking for the family to announce his latter stages of illness and death. When asked why Gene never went public with his advancing illness, the family member said because Wilder didn’t want kids to be sad at the thought of Willy Wonka being sick. They wanted to remember Wilder as he was to them – magic and mythic and mirthful. That was his gift and his legacy.

David Milberg is an NYC credit analyst.

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