The comic actor is best remembered for roles as wild as his hair, frequently portraying manic yet charming characters for writer/director Mel Brooks or alongside the late Richard Pryor. For Brooks, he took on The Producers (which earned him an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor), Young Frankenstein (which he co-wrote, garnering a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination), and Blazing Saddles. Alongside Pryor, Wilder starred in Stir Crazy, Another You, Silver Streak, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil.
For many, however, Wilder’s most memorable on-screen persona was that of the titular candy maker in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Though the film was not a hit upon its release, it has found its way to becoming a surreptitiously dark, much-beloved children’s cult classic.
In addition to performing, Wilder also tried his hand behind the camera, helming such films as The World’s Greatest Lover, The Woman in Red, and Haunted Honeymoon. He co-starred in those latter two projects with his then-wife, Saturday Night Live alum Gilda Radner.
In 1989, Wilder retired from Hollywood following a pair of personal tragedies, including the death of Radner and his diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989. He would remain active in television, however, starring in a TV version of Alice in Wonderland and an unsuccessful sitcom entitled Something Wilder. He received an Emmy for a guest spot he did on Will & Grace.
In the later years of his life, Wilder spent his time writing. His memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, was released in 2005. He went on to pen a number of fictional novels, including My French Whore, The Woman Who Wouldn’t, and Something to Remember You By: A Perilous Romance.
He’s survived by his nephew and his fourth wife, Karen Boyer, whom he married in 1991. Wilder’s other former wives include Mary Mercier and Mary Joan Schutz, aka Jo Ayers.
Revisit some of Wilder’s classic on-screen appearances below.