There are some people in the world with funny bones. There aren’t many of them but Gene Wilder was one. He was the kind of person who appears in a scene and makes you laugh without doing anything at all. He did this by embodying his characters and the pathos of their lives so authentically that you could read everything in his eyes. You were aware of the calamities befalling these people he inhabited, their frustrations, their insecurities and it was hilarious to watch his mind working, just as it was to see him burst out of himself in one of his signature moments of reaching the final straw.
I always saw him as more than human. It comes from having watched his performance as Willy Wonka at such a young age, when I didn’t understand about filmmaking and sets and actors and all that jazz, I just genuinely believed Willy Wonka was real, and that Gene Wilder was him. So he’s an otherworldly type figure to me; bigger than life.
And though many will remember his iconic turn as Willy Wonka best, for me his role as The Waco Kid in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles will always be my enduring memory of Wilder. In a film which could have easily seen his performance swallowed up by the army of caricature-like supporting characters, Wilder played it straight. He delivered tragedy with a soulful kindness and in doing so produced some of the funniest moments in cinematic history.
You just don’t get people like Wilder any more. You get very funny people, don’t get me wrong, and you get performers who can deliver authenticity in mind boggling ways. But in a world where everyone gets pigeonholed and compared to others, Wilder remained a complete one off.
He will be missed. And he will never be forgotten.