Late yesterday, I discovered the sad news that Gene Wilder had died. The beloved actor passed away Sunday in his Stamford, Connecticut home from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Like most, I remember Wilder as the titular eccentric chocolatier in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and from his exceptional roles in multiple Mel Brooks movies (The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles). As a film buff, I even take note of his appearances in feature films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Little Prince. Plus, he was a perfect comedic partner for the late Richard Pryor in movies like Silver Streak and Stir Crazy, among others.
However – and the reason I’m mentioning him in a blog about public broadcasting – I will always fondly recall Gene Wilder as the voice of the heroic Letterman on the 1970s kids show The Electric Company. You remember: “Faster than a rolling O – Stronger than silent E – Able to leap capital T in a single bound! It’s a word, it’s a plan…it’s Letterman!” Yes, that Letterman! The wonderful animated “Adventures Of Letterman” wasn’t even an initial part of the show but debuted in season two. Moreover, Gene Wilder wasn’t even the sole voice of the character (apparently early installments used different voice actors) yet became singularly associated with Letterman by bestowing an affable, easy-going everyman demeanor on the hero.
Personally, I’m thankful for this oft-forgotten PBS connection. Gene Wilder was a fantastic talent and he will be sorely missed. But he leaves behind a tremendous legacy of film, television and more.