It was a sad day in Hollywood on Monday as the world learned that Gene Wilder, one of the most beloved comic actors of the ’70s and ’80s, had passed away at the age of 83.
The Jewish star, born Jerome Silberman and known for his roles in an array of classic films — from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” to “Young Frankenstein” to “Stir Crazy” — succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, which his family said he had suffered from for three years.
If the news itself doesn’t moisten your tear ducts, get this: Wilder’s nephew said in a statement that the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was playing in the room as the actor passed away.
Mel Brooks, the Jewish comedy legend who collaborated with Wilder in a series of comedic triumphs (“Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” and “The Producers,” in which he co-starred with Zero Mostel), was one of the first to react to the somber news in touching fashion. He tweeted: “Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.”
But countless other celebrities (including several Jewish ones) also took to Twitter to pay heartfelt tributes to the actor once described by The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael as a “magnetic blur” who made barely controlled hysteria “his dazzling specialty.”
Actress Debra Messing wrote: A man who lit up the world with his joy and genius. I can’t say what it meant to act with him and get to know his heart. RIP#GeneWilder“. And Jim Carrey tweeted: “Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there’s a heaven he has a Golden Ticket.”