Gene Wilder, the man who brought to life such characters as Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein and the title character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has passed away today at the age of 83.
Although Wilder was best known for his comedic abilities, many of his roles contained a darker side. His ability to balance horror and humor set him apart; he leaves behind an indelible mark on 20th century cinema.
Several generations of children will remember Wilder as the gentle monster who guided them into the horror genre through his performance as Willy Wonka. For many, myself included, that story was one of the first to challenge me. I had to decide who I was when faced with unsettling images and ideas. It was a complex moment filled with gray tones of discomfort; did I trust this man to keep me safe? Maybe.
Wilder surprised us by turning off the lights as he took our hands, forcing us to find our own path through his material even as he showed us the way. He embraced the terror and the humor and transformed them into art.
He will be missed.