Gene Wilder Biography

Gene Wilder photo

Born: June 11, 1933


Date of Birth: June 11, 1933

Date of Death: August, 29, 2016

Jermone Silberman, professionally known as Gene Wilder, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Russian Jewish immigrants. He took the name Gene from the Thomas Wolfe character Eugene Gant in the novelsLook Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River. The surname Wilder comes from playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder.

Gene took up acting when he was 11 after seeing his sister performing in a play. By the time Gene was 13, he was taking acting lessons from the same teacher who had taught his sister. Gene's parents saw potential in their son and sent him to a military institute in Hollywood.

Gene was still known as Jerome Silberman in those days, and his Jewish name did not go unnoticed. He was the only Jewish boy at the institute, which made it all too easy for the other boys to single him out. Gene said the bullying went as far as sexual assault.

He moved back to Wisconsin at age 15, and soon immersed himself in local community theater. By the time he graduated high school, Gene knew he would spend his life acting.

Gene's feature film debut came in 1967 in the crime flick Bonnie and Clyde. The following year he appeared in the satirical comedy The Producers. His role as Leo Bloom earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

In 1971, Gene earned the role that would forever mark him as one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood — Willy Wonka in the 1971 adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He continued his hot streak in the mid 1970s, with starring roles in the Mel Brooks satirical Western Blazing Saddles (1974), and the satirical horror comedy Young Frankenstein (1974). He co-wrote Young Frankenstein along with Mel Brooks, and was nominated for his second Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. He also received his first Golden Globe nomination, for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical. He followed this up with a starring role in Silver Streak (1976), which earned him a second Golden Globe nomination in the same category.

Over the next two decades, Gene starred in a slew of television and film projects, including Sunday Lovers (1980), The Woman in Red (1984), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Funny About Love (1990). After 1991, Gene fell away from the limelight, only making a handful of appearances on the small screen. His most recent role was as Mr. Stein in the NBC sitcom Will & Grace. He also provided the voice of Elmer on an episode of the animated children's TV series Yo Gabba Gabba! in 2015.

Gene married his first wife, Mary Mercier, in July 1960. They divorced in 1965. Next he married Mary Joan Schutz in 1967, however, they too divorced after seven years of marriage.

Gene then met Saturday Night Live actress Gilda Radner in 1981 while filming the movie Hanky Panky (1982). Although Radner was married at the time, she left her husband and married Gene on September 14, 1984. After less than five years of marriage, Radner succumbed to a years-long battle with ovarian cancer. Following her death, Gene became a lifelong advocate for cancer treatment and awareness, co-founding the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles. He eventually married clinical supervisor Karen Webb in 1991, the two were married at the time of his death on August 29, 2016 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. He was 83 years old.

Photo credit: Press


Another You (1991)
Funny About Love (1990)
See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
Haunted Honeymoon (1986)
The Woman in Red (1984)
Hanky Panky (1982)
Stir Crazy(1980)
Sunday Lovers (1980)
The Frisco Kid (1979) The World's Greatest Lover (1977)
Silver Streak (1976)
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)
Young Frankenstein(1974)
The Little Prince(1974)
Blazing Saddles(1974)
Rhinoceros (1974)
Young Frankenstein(1974)
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory(1971)
Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970)
Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)
The Producers (1967)
Bonnie and Clyde(1967)
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