ByRose Moore, writer at
Writer, cosplayer and all around nerd. @RoseMooreWrites
Rose Moore

This week, one of the great comic actors of our time sadly passed away. As the star of Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and many more comedy classics, Wilder will always be remembered for making the world laugh.

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor

Wilder was a genius when it came to slapstick, glorying in the ridiculous and in over-the-top parodies, but his work is more than perfectly timed punchlines. Throughout his career in comedy, Wilder's characters have taught us about how to live our lives to the fullest. Whether he was an alcoholic gunslinger, a deaf man on the run, a chocolate magnate, or a mad scientist, Gene Wilder is our role model.

1. Live Loud (And Stop Caring What Other People Think)

If there was one thing that Gene Wilder had no time for, it was holding back. The actor would give every single performance his all — captivating us with wild eyes (and wilder hair), flinging himself around the set like a man possessed, working himself up to a frenzy of comedy. Wilder could pull of quiet intensity and deliver a line utterly deadpan or with a sly smile, but is most often remembered for his louder moments on screen. Seeing Wilder shout out a line at the top of his lungs is incredible, and he never needed to lower the volume on his characters. Wilder never cared about appearing normal — if anything, he wanted to be different, and it was that that made him stand out as a true star. Just take a look at the scene here from Young Frankenstein where he completely loses it.

2. Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

Gene Wilder pulling of Willy Wonka's entrance
Gene Wilder pulling of Willy Wonka's entrance

In a well-known Hollywood story, when Gene Wilder was offered the role of Willy Wonka, he accepted on one condition. That he could make his entrance the way he wanted to — appearing first as a decrepit old man, leaning heavily on his cane...only to roll into it and spring up, unhurt, spry, laughing at everyone who thought he was weak. Wilder loved to work on films that challenged stereotypes with laughter: Blazing Saddles, with its biting satire on racism and the glorification of the Wild West. See No Evil, Hear No Evil, where a blind man and a deaf man solve a murder (despite being suspects themselves). Even The Producers, where two men attempting to make a guaranteed flop create the perfect storm, reminds us not to rely on assumptions about what people like (or what they are like).

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3. Always Imagine The Possibilities

Young Frankenstein, one of Wilder's best-loved movies, is a testament to the wonder of trying something new. When Dr. Frederick Frankenstein learns that his famous relative has passed away and left him the family estate, he could simply have told someone else to sell it off and kept teaching physics. Instead, he travels to Transylvania and ends up carrying on the family business — but with a lot more success and a happy ending (spoilers!). In The Producers, although the machinations of Max and Leo go horribly awry for them... there's something just a little inspirational about the idea that any production could be a hit (even where everything is intended to go wrong).

4. Don't Take Life Too Seriously

Above all else, Wilder loved to make people laugh, and everything was fair game for comedy. Sex, war, dictatorship, racism, con men, badly-behaved children, monsters, disabilities... there was no subject that Wilder wasn't willing to lampoon for the sake of satire. His work reminds us that in an age of changing ideas of political correctness, it's still ok to poke fun at sensitive subjects, as long as you do it well (instead of simply batting at low-hanging fruit). His comedy may not appear subtle on the surface, but it's carefully considered — and that's part of his talent.

Imagination, open-mindedness, courage, and laughter. Gene Wilder gave us so much, and he will be sorely missed.


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