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Gene Wilder, star of ‘Willy Wonka,’ dead at 83

STAMFORD, Conn. – Gene Wilder, the star of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” is dead at 83, his family announced.

“He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world”Jordan Walker-Pearlman, Wilder’s nephew, said he died from complication from Alzheimer’s Disease, which he had lived with for the past three years. He said Wilder passed away at his home in Stamford, Conn.

“The choice to keep this private was his choice, in talking with us and making a decision as a family. We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones – this illness-pirate, unlike so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. It took enough, but not that,” Walker-Pearlman said.

“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him “there’s Willy Wonka,” would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment, or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” Walker-Pearlman said.

“He was eighty-three and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember. As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favorites: Ella Fitzgerald. There is a picture of he and Ella meeting at a London Bistro some years ago that are among each or cherished possessions. She was singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” as he was taken away,” Walker-Pearlman said.