Actor Gene Wilder once said “If you’re not going to tell the truth, then why start talking?” which is pretty powerful when you think about it and suggest Mr. Wilder was a wise man. Words a writer like myself tries to live by.
I say was because many of you may have heard by now that the actor passed away Aug. 29 at the age of 83 years old – something I consider a real loss.
Now I believe that every death is a loss however with Wilder I feel it more than someone I did not know for instance because I feel as if I knew him through his art.
This is the key to why we sometimes become silly over things in pop culture. Effective (but not necessarily good) pop culture connects with the audience on some kind of relational level. You begin to feel you know the person or people in the medium.
This is the phenomenon the makes people love and/or hate actors, singers, artists, politicians etc. because we have come to feel as if we are in a relationship with them.
It’s what makes us feel a tad ridiculous when so-and-so from the Bachelor does such-and-such to someone or our favorite television character suddenly does something ridiculous and we get unreasonably angry and vow never to watch again.
Sometimes the person (in this case for me Mr. Wilder) connects with some bygone part of our lives.
I was introduced to Mr. Wilder as a child through various and sundry ways – library movie loans, television and the movie theatre. I watched him first in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as the greatest portrayal of Willy Wonka ever. From there I moved on to Blazing Saddles (a satirical comedy, the likes of which will never be seen again), and of course Young Frankenstein (that’s Fronk-en-shteen for the un-initiated) and many more.
No matter the film Mr. Wilder’s brilliant comedic gentleness always shone through. There was no hiding his character no matter the character if you understand what I mean.
While I knew he was getting up there Mr. Wilder landed into a category of celebrity that isn’t supposed to die if you know what I mean. It would not have mattered if he were 103 or 133 I would still have been caught off guard.
These people are symbolic of things in our lives, different things to each of us. To me Wilder was absurd and existential, he was the funniest of people who seemed least likely to be funny. No matter the character he played he seemed as if the kind of person who would gladly have lunch with you if you bumped into him on the street and blathered star-struck about his impact on your life. He seemed approachable.
I am thankful I had the opportunity to watch his unique brand of comedy because I really don’t believe we will see such a man as this again anytime soon and I do think we are better for his work.
Perhaps how I feel can best be summed up in the immortal, ridiculous, hyperbolic words of his character Victor Frankenstein:
“From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, “I am man!” our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself. Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders, and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.”