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James Corden Remembers Meeting Gene Wilder: ‘He Was Just This Magical Person’

Heartfelt words. James Corden remembered Gene Wilder on The Late Late Show on Monday, August 29, paying tribute to the comedian, who died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 83.

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“He was never less than brilliant at all times,” Corden, 38, told the audience, as he recalled being “terrified” when the Young Frankenstein star came backstage to meet him when he was performing on Broadway.

Gene Wilder
Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.’ Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“If anyone else came backstage they’d stay for five, six, 10 minutes tops,” the host said. “He sat in my room for half an hour and we sat on this couch and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. And all he really wanted to talk about was how my wife and son were adjusting in New York and were we happy and was it fun. It was amazing and we exchanged emails.”

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In 2015, when Corden began hosting the Late Late Show, he was planning to kick off his first episode with a Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory sketch, where the person who got the hosting gig won it by finding a golden ticket in a Wonka bar.

James Corden
James Corden paid tribute to Gene Wilder on ‘The Late Late Show’ on Monday, August 29. CBS/The Late Late Show

“So I sent him an email, asking if he’d come and do a bit in it and he sent me an email back where he, in the history of people saying no to things, it couldn’t have been nicer,” Corden said of Wilder, who played the title character in the 1971 film.

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The email read, “Dearest James, I don’t do or go where you were hoping, but I’ll be looking for you. With my love, Gene.”

“Even the way he said no was so poetic, even his emails sounded somehow like Willy Wonka,” Corden added. “The truth of it is, he was just this magical person and he made everybody around him feel this incredible feeling of joy. It’s what I felt when I watched him. It’s what I felt when I met him. And that’s what I hope he’s feeling now, wherever he is. Thank you so much for everything you gave us, Gene Wilder, you are loved and you are going to be so dearly, dearly missed.”

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