Legendary comedian, actor, writer and director, Gene Wilder, died on Monday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.
The beloved Willy Wonka actor held the hands of loved ones at his home in Stamford, Connecticut as he took his last breath. In an official statement, Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, spoke about the legendary actor’s final moments. He was surrounded by family and friends as loved ones gathered for one last family dinner.
Walker-Pearlman revealed that Wilder wanted to keep his battle with the disease a secret because he “couldn’t bear the thought of one less smile in the world.” He said that everyone was feeling “indescribable sadness and blues” after Wilder’s passing and that it was “almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him.”
“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children 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,” Walker-Pearlman said.
“He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” he added. Wilder remained true to his values up until the very end, regularly hugging and kissing his wife, Karen, often looking to crack a joke and partaking into movie marathons. He “passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember,” his nephew recalls.
“As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath, the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favorites: Ella Fitzgerald. She was singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow as he was taken away.” Although he was considerably weaker during his last few days, his nephew says that Wilder’s death was still quite a shock to the family.
“For a day, we thought we had more than a few days,” he told NPR. “At that last moment, we said our final goodbyes. We had a chicken dinner that my cousin Kevin made because it was his favorite.” “And we went upstairs, and my wife had gone and said, the nurse says ‘It’s happening. It’s happening now’. He held my hand. He held my aunt’s hand. And incredibly, on a random speaker playlist, Ella Fitzgerald, who was his favorite singer, started to sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Social media sites were flooded with tributes for the Young Frankenstein actor, as musicians, actors and other public figures paid their respects to one of the genre-defining actors of the 20th century. One particularly stood out among the rest. “Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take human form. If there’s a heaven, he has a golden ticket,” Jim Carrey wrote.