Gene Wilder, whose kinky curls and startled blue eyes brought an enduring and frantic air to roles in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and "Blazing Saddles," died on Monday at the age of 83, his family said.
Wilder, whose best work came in collaborations with director-writer Mel Brooks and actor Richard Pryor, died at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, from complications of Alzheimer's disease, the family said in a statement.
Wilder's nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said the actor had chosen to keep his Alzheimer's secret so that children who knew him as Willy Wonka would not equate the whimsical character with an adult disease.
Wilder's barely contained hysteria made him a go-to lead for director-writer Mel Brooks, who cast him in "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein" and "The Producers" in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
Besides his classic collaborations with Brooks, Wilder paired memorably with comedian Richard Pryor in hits "Silver Streak" and "Stir Crazy."
Wilder also was active in promoting ovarian cancer awareness and treatment after his wife, "Saturday Night Live" comedienne Gilda Radner, whom he married in 1984, died of the disease in 1989.
He helped found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founded Gilda's Club, a support group that has branches throughout the country.