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On Sunday evening, a massive talent and a comedic genius left the earth. Gene Wilder, 83, passed due to complications with Alzheimer’s disease at his home. Fortunately, his memory will live on in his hilarious and earnestly heartfelt performances. To this day, these timeless characters can muster a sense of joy that can overshadow the gloomiest of days. His smile was contagious and his charisma infectious. He made us laugh, cry and acknowledge the sillier side of life. To commemorate the life and times of the star, here are the top four performances of the late and great Gene Wilder.
Jim, the drunken, washed-up sharpshooter, worked as a more subdued performance for Wilder. With a muted demeanor and some ridiculously funny slapstick, the has-been cowpoke is one of the most memorable characters in “Blazing Saddles.” Jim’s soft voice and strange dialogue were an excellent comedic vehicle for Wilder to explore. The character’s sheer likability was enough to engage any audience member, but Wilder’s comedic timing was what truly cemented Jim as a cinematic legend. From his walk to his talk, Gene Wilder perfected a three-dimensional cowboy. He was one westerner you never wanted to see riding off into the sunset.
“Well, my name is Jim, but most people call me … Jim.”
3. Leo Bloom
“The Producers” was blessed with a terrifically sharp script and widely touted as a comedic masterpiece. Wilder was the driving force behind this biting satire of the entertainment industry. Within the film, he served as both a comic match and foil to the antics of Zero Mostel’s character. He was able to combine his signature outbursts with a lovably nervous personality. Gene Wilder was known for portraying fascinatingly eccentric characters with distinctly different personalities, and Bloom was no exception. In a constant state of hysteria, Leo Bloom’s mannerisms and screechy tone gave birth to belly laugh after belly laugh. The characters in “The Producers” may have been attempting to helm a definite flop, but thanks to Gene Wilder, the film was unsinkable.
“I’m in pain and I’m wet and I’m still hysterical!”
– Leo Bloom
2. Dr. Frankenstein
Something I’ve noticed in Gene Wilder films is that the man has perfected the art of comedic screaming. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the hilarious Mel Brooks comedy: “Young Frankenstein.” Dr. Frankenstein was a character of great passion, and it showed in both his work and his vocal chords. At one point in the film, he shouts an entire monologue, and it is impossible to look away. In my opinion, “Young Frankenstein” is the funniest Wilder movie, and, predictably, this is mostly due to his performance alone. Belting out gut-bustlingly funny lines, Wilder tapped into his inner psycho and became one with the mad scientist. Despite his widely entertaining performance, he was not the only comedic force in the movie. All of his zany costars added to the film’s personality and gave Gene Wilder ample opportunity to engage in farcical interactions. Dr. Frankenstein’s insanity is unmatched, and he electrifies this satirical reimagining.
“Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.”
– Dr. Victor Frankenstein
1. Willy Wonka
Gene Wilder brought something very special to this classic story and character. Wonka is as eccentric as they come, and Wilder was able to capture this essence in folds. Somehow combining sincerity with sarcasm, only Wilder could accomplish this deliciously rich performance. There are so many good things to say about this character that it is nearly impossible to define them all. Both a role model and a mysterious outcast, Willy Wonka pulls together Wilder’s strongest characteristics. His bright wonderment, his uniqueness, his sincerity, his incredible timing and his endearment are all apparent in this movie. Through his absurdity, Wonka’s emotions are tangible and relatable as he searches for the perfect heir. This character will always hold a place in my heart, and his witty dialogue will always hold a place in my mind. Years after his death, Gene Wilder’s greatest performance will live on as an immortal and entertaining treasure.
“Where is fancy bread, in the heart or in the head?”
– Willy Wonka