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Gene Wilder Died Holding Hands With His Family While Listening to ‘Over the Rainbow’

Gene Wilder died while holding hands with his family members and listening to one of his favorite songs, Ella Fitzgerald’s cover of “Over the Rainbow,” his nephew shared in a statement.

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As previously reported, the beloved 83-year-old Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory star died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Monday, August 29, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. Shortly after Wilder passed, his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman released a statement on behalf of the Academy Award–nominated actor’s family.

Gene Wilder
Gene Wilder at the 14th Annual Art Directors Guild Awards in 2010.

“He was 83 and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember,” Walker-Pearlman said on Monday. “As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath, the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favorites: Ella Fitzgerald. There is a picture of he and Ella meeting at a London Bistro some years ago that are among each of our cherished possessions. She was singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ as he was taken away.”

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Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald singing in 1960.

In their statement issued on Monday, the Young Frankenstein actor’s family continued, “It is almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease with which he co-existed for the last three years. The choice to keep this private was his choice, in talking with us and making a decision as a family. 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.

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“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.”

Wilder is survived by his fourth wife, Karen Boyer. He was previously married to Mary Mercier and Mary Joan Schutz, as well as Saturday Night Live original cast member Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

Christina Garibaldi and Ian Drew discussed all the latest, including celebrity tributes to the acting legend, on Us Weekly’s Facebook Live News Update. Check it out!

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