The passing of beloved actor Gene Wilder yesterday surprised many and left the world without one of America’s brightest comedy stars.
According to Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, the 83-year-old had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly three years before it finally took his life — but very few people knew about it.
Walker-Pearlman wrote in a statement that his loved ones were lucky, because the disease didn’t change Wilder’s “core personality”:
“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in 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.”
It turns out, the star of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and “Blazing Saddles” had the sweetest reason for keeping his debilitating illness a secret.
It was for the children, his nephew revealed:
“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.”
You can read Walker-Pearlman’s full statement below:
— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 29, 2016
Wilder is survived by Karen Boyer, his wife of 25 years, and his nephew.