The Comedy Genius, 1933 – 2016
Notorious already in its own time, 2016 is sure to go down as one of the worst years on record, particularly in the arena of celebrity deaths. Every year is plagued by the loss of beloved entertainers and statesmen, but this year has been particularly harsh, with the opening of the gates heralded by the passing of the seemingly immortal Lemmy Kilmister and compounded by those of the similarly eternal David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, et al. The buzz among fandom rose to a din; who could possibly be next? And just when it seemed like we might make it through the summer, the claws of fate came to snatch Gene Wilder away.
Wilder was a class act par excellence, cherished the world over for his legendary roles in The Producers, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles, as well as his classic hits with Richard Pryor. In Pryor, he found his perfect comic foil; in Gilda Radner, his perfect life companion. And though he retreated from the public eye following Radner’s death in 1989, his stature remained undiminished, every role finding fortune with each new crop of film fans.
Wilder’s passing symbolizes something greater than itself, though, the immeasurable losses we’ve suffered of late signify nothing less than the slow death of the monoculture, the very last of our shared experiences. A generation from now, celebrity deaths will muster only an iota of the grief on display here among the minuscule fanbase afforded to each, and none of them will have the worldwide impact of those that we’ve seen this year. The end is terrible; I hope it’ll last.