My dear boy, do you ask a fish how it swims? Or a bird how it flies? No sirree, you don’t! They do it because they were born to do it. Just like Willy Wonka was born to be a candyman…
Just like Gene Wilder was born to be an entertainer.
Gene died on Monday. It broke my heart. I’ve feared this day since the moment I fell in love with him… the concern when you fall in love with someone so much older than yourself.
I came to be a Wilder fan late in life. Not super late, but I didn’t grow up with Willy Wonka like a lot of people. I remember it vividly. I was 14. I was in the living room with my mother, on a Saturday. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was playing on television and my mom was working on one of her sewing projects on the couch. I watched it, knowing it was one of those movies I should probably watch… but something happened to me. I was entranced. Mesmerized. It wasn’t just the magic of the film. Dahl’s story. The factory that we all wished existed. It was the man. Wonka. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He sucked me into his world with his eyes, his voice, his delivery, his charisma. I said to my mother, “who is that?”
“That’s Gene Wilder.”
“Uh huh. I think I love him.”
That’s all it took. I was hooked. I watched every movie I could get my hands on. By the time I was a freshman in college, I met my (now) husband. We stayed up all night talking, but for part of that magical night, I told him he had to watch my favorite movie… followed by a showing of See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Maybe that’s what won the guy over.
My entire life, he has been my source of comfort. Wait, not my husband. Well, him too. But Gene Wilder. I could put in any movie, whether it be a Mel Brooks, a Richard Pryor, a Gilda Radner… and I’d be sucked into those blue eyes, into that world that he was in and I would be comforted; I would be happy.
When I was in my late twenties, I made a list of 30 Things To Do Before I’m 30. One of my top priorities was owning all of the Gene Wilder films I could get my hands on. I now own everything except for The Little Prince. (It’s just been too expensive.)
So when I say “I loved Gene Wilder,” I want you to realize the weight of this statement. Monday, we lost… not just a great comedic talent. We lost the closest thing to magic this world has ever known. An outstanding comedian, yes. That cannot be overstated. But also an amazing actor, talented author and humble human being. If you read his autobiography, he’s even a bit self-deprecating. But that was part of his humility. And every story you hear anyone else tell about him erases any dark light he could have possibly have cast upon himself.
Gene has changed my life. Touched my soul. Made me who I am today. I have a perfect opportunity to put into words just what all of this means to me and I’m falling short.
I was going to do a theme recipe to honor him, and I couldn’t. It’s too important that I don’t cheapen this moment or use it for the gain of my blog. Nothing I could ever come up with could honor the existence of this man.
So here’s my column. Devoid of food. But hopefully, filled with love and appreciation.
Mister Wilder… I love you. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.