Mel Brooks paid tribute to his old friend and longtime collaborator Gene Wilder on Tuesday’s Tonight Show.
“He was such a dear friend,” Brooks told Jimmy Fallon. “I expected that he would go but when it happens, it’s still tremendous. It’s a big shock. I’m still reeling. No more Gene? … He was such a wonderful part of my life.”
Wilder, who worked with Brooks on Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and earned a best supporting actor nomination for his role in 1967’s The Producers, died Sunday (Aug. 28) at his home in Stamford, Conn., due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, his family announced Monday.
Brooks told Fallon the story of how they met, when his late wife Anne Bancroft was in the play Mother Courage with Wilder, who played the Chaplain. “The Chaplain was a great part,” said Brooks, adding that the role is serious but gets laughs. “But he said, ‘they always laugh, why are they laughing at me?’ And I said ‘look in the mirror, blame it on God!’ Then we became very good friends.”
When Brooks was writing The Producers, he said that he first told Wilder that when they got the money, Wilder would be the accountant Leo Bloom, but Wilder didn’t quite believe they would get the money to make the film. “Miracle of miracles, we got the money,” Brooks said, so he went to tell Wilder the good news, and Wilder burst into tears. “He cried, and I hugged him. It was a wonderful moment.”
On the set of Blazing Saddles, in which Wilder plays The Waco Kid, Brooks said Wilder would constantly be writing on a legal pad that said “Young Frankenstein.” Wilder told him his idea for the film that he would eventually star in, and Brooks said he instantly knew he wanted to write and cast it with his friend.
Brooks had originally planned to appear on Fallon’s show to promote Young Frankenstein: A Mel Brooks Book: The Story of the Making of the Film, as well as a talk at Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 2. He joked that he booked the appearance when he had only sold a few hundred seats at the venue, but by Tuesday, the show was sold out so it was too late.
In tribute to his collaborator and friend, Brooks also tweeted on Monday, “Gene Wilder-One of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.”
This article originally appeared in THR.com.