Show business got some sad news Monday (Aug. 29) about the death of Gene Wilder, comedic star of films including Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein. His nephew revealed that the actor and writer passed away earlier this month in Stamford, Connecticut, due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 83.
Wilder had a knack for eccentric characters and these characters were often musically-inclined. In his honor, we look back at some of his greatest musical moments on screen.
“Pure Imagination,” Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
This classic number from Wilder’s most iconic role perfectly captures his portrayal of the complicated candy man through fantastic a song that all but transports you to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
“Puttin’ on the Ritz,” Young Frankenstein
1974 was a huge year for Wilder. First he played the washed-up gunfighter the Waco Kid in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and then 10 months later starred in Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Watch Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and his monster (Peter Boyle) performing a totally ludicrous rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”:
“The Kangaroo Hop,” The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother
Then again, not all of Wilder’s films were definitive and neither were his songs. In 1975, he tried to put another irreverent spin on a literary classic, directing and starring in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. We give you, “The Kangaroo Hop”:
“Springtime for Hitler,” The Producers
Wilder got his big break in 1968 with The Producers. He stars alongside Zero Mostel as scheming Broadway masterminds (Wilder’s character is an accountant) trying to make their new show a massive flop so they can finesse money away from investors. Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden of course turns out to be a huge success, deeply complicating their plans. And though — as one of the titular producers — Wilder wasn’t actually performing musical numbers, we had to share “Springtime For Hitler” anyway:
“Wondrous Boat Ride,” Willy Wonka
After going full-on puerile wonder with “Pure Imagination,” Wilder got pretty damn weird while taking his guests on a boat ride across his factory. He starts off with a monologue, then takes it darker and darker as he turns to song with lines like “Is the grizzly reaper mowing?” in probably the family film’s most demented scene.
“We Are the Music Makers” by Aphex Twin
Willy Wonka lives on through the art of sampling. Here’s how Aphex Twin included one of his best lines on 1992’s Selected Ambient Works 85–92.
“We are the music makers,” indeed. Rest in peace, Gene Wilder.