Mel Brooks, Hollywood Stars Pay Tribute to Gene Wilder

The Jewish actor, born Jerome Silberman and known for his roles in an array of classic films, succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Gene Wilder.
Jessica Hill, AP

JTA – It was a sad day in Hollywood on Monday as the world learned that Gene Wilder, one of the most beloved comic actors of the ’70s and ’80s, had passed away at the age of 83.

The Jewish star, born Jerome Silberman and known for his roles in an array of classic films – from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” to “Young Frankenstein” to “Stir Crazy” – succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, which his family said he had suffered from for three years.

If the news itself doesn’t moisten your tear ducts, get this: Wilder’s nephew said in a statement that the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was playing in the room as the actor passed away.

Mel Brooks, the Jewish comedy legend who collaborated with Wilder in a series of comedic triumphs (“Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” and “The Producers,” in which he co-starred with Zero Mostel), was one of the first to react to the somber news in touching fashion.

But countless other celebrities (including several Jewish ones) also took to Twitter to pay heartfelt tributes to the actor once described by The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael as a “magnetic blur” who made barely controlled hysteria “his dazzling specialty.”