Since news broke that Gene Wilder had died Sunday at the age of 83, many of the comedian’s costars and collaborators have offered their condolences and shared their favorite memories of Wilder. Now, several of the actors from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory are speaking out about the man who brought the eccentric candy genius to life.
Wilder’s resume is packed with iconic performances, from the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles to Dr. Frankenstein (that’s Frahnk-en-STEEN) in Young Frankenstein, but Willy Wonka is the role that he is perhaps best known for, bringing a maniacally delightful edge to Roald Dahl’s unsettling character. And although Wonka may have traumatized the spoiled children on screen, Wilder’s costars remember him as nothing but kind and thoughtful.
Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket, spoke to Variety about his experience on the film, recalling how he and Wilder would always share a chocolate bar on their way back to set after lunch.
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“It’s kind of like losing a parent,” Ostrum said. “You know it’s going to happen, but it’s still a shock. He was not in good health at the end and it was not unexpected by any means, but when it happens it hits you like, ‘Gene is gone and there will never be anyone like him again.’ … He was a gentle man, but he was also a gentleman. He treated people with respect and dignity.”
Willy Wonka was Ostrum’s only film, and he quit acting to become a veterinarian. He told Variety that he and Wilder didn’t keep in touch after the shoot ended, but he is eternally grateful to both Wilder and Jack Albertson, who played Grandpa Joe, for their guidance.
“To have made one film and to be associated with Jack and Gene, I feel like I really found the golden ticket,” Ostrum added.
Denise Nickerson, who played the gum-smacking future blueberry Violet Beauregarde, remembered Wilder as “talented and kindhearted,” signing her tribute “Love, Violet.”
Julie Dawn Cole starred as the rotten Veruca Salt, and she also took to Twitter (her username is @realverucasalt) to honor Wilder.
And Rusty Goffe, who played one of Wonka’s Oompa Loompas, wrote that Wilder was “one of the nicest if not THE nicest actor I have ever worked with.”