It was “the world of his creation,” as the late Gene Wilder sang in his legendary title role in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
For over four decades, the lovable comedian touched the hearts of millions, and today University of Central Florida students mourn the loss of their childhood chocolatier and only wish his passing was of “pure imagination.”
“He had wit, charm, a great singing voice, and was just all-around an amazing performer,” third-year computer science major Andrew Vincent Smith said. “I’ll never forget the countless times as a child I’d watch his expository scene in Willy Wonka, where he walked out to the public like a feeble old man, put his cane down, then proceed[ed] to do a perfect front roll for the crowd in front of him[,] and they’d respond with thunderous applause.”
Wilder died of complications from Alzheimer’s at the age of 83, according to the Associated Press, but despite his long life, students are devastated to lose a timeless American treasure, who was almost a friend.
“He was my childhood,” junior theatre studies and writing and rhetoric major Madison Smith said.
“I don’t know what to think,” junior BA cinema studies major Kelly Hazell added. “Another legend is gone.”
Wilder was also known for his collaboration with Mel Brooks in the 1974 films Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which is also a staged musical that Theatre UCF is producing this fall.
The cast and crew responded to the late comedian’s passing.
“When I think of Gene Wilder, automatically my mind goes to Willy Wonka, and it reminds me of my childhood,” junior BFA musical theatre major Ally Rosenblum, recently cast as Frau Blucher, said. “It is so sad to hear of his passing, but what an incredible career he had. I am excited to be a part of his legacy as Theatre UCF presents Young Frankenstein!”
“Gene Wilder was so instrumental in many collaborations with Mel Brooks’ and as co-writer for the film Young Frankenstein, as well,” the musical’s director Christopher Neiss said. “It will be unavoidable to present the stage musical version without being influenced by his comedic talent in the original movie.”
“He was a very talented man,” Theatre UCF marketing director Heather Gibson added.
There is no word yet if any Wilder tributes will be added to Theatre UCF’s performances.