Tributes paid to comedy legend Gene Wilder after his death at 83

Willy Wonka star's family say he passed away while listening to Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Tributes paid to comedy legend Gene Wilder after his death at 83

Gene Wilder is shown in character as he films Tri Star Pictures See No Evil, Hear No Evil with Richard Pryor in 1989 | Image: AP Photo

Co-stars, directors and admirers have been remembering Gene Wilder, the beloved actor who has died at the age of 83 after suffering complications linked to Alzheimer's disease.

The American film legend, who starred in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, passed away on Sunday night in Stamford, Connecticut.

A statement released by his family said he was listening to the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow when he died. 

"As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favourites: Ella Fitzgerald," his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said. 

"There is a picture of he and Ella meeting at a London bistro some years ago that are among each or cherished possessions. She was singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow as he was taken away."

Among those mourning the comedy legend's passing are the actors who played the five lucky Golden Ticket winners in the 1971 production.

Julie Dawn Cole, who was just 12 years old when she played spoilt Veruca Salt, described him as a "father figure" to the cast who was "quiet, gently, funny and patient".

Cole said her four child co-stars in the movie, who she continues to see once every year, were "very, very sad" to hear of his death. They had last heard from Wilder in 2015, when he sent them "lots of love".

Wilder was also celebrated for his collaborations with director Mel Brooks, who said: "He blessed every film we did together with his special magic and he blessed my life with friendship."

The daughter of the late Richard Pryor, with whom Gene Wilder created several box office hits, said "nothing could beat their magic on screen nor ever will".

Household names in TV and film have also described how they were inspired to pursue comedy after seeing Wilder on the stage and screen.

Actor Rob Lowe said: "Gene Wilder was one of my earliest heroes. Blazing Saddles, Willy Wonka, are CLINICS on comic acting. Sad to hear of his passing."

"Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there's a heaven, he has a Golden Ticket," Jim Carrey wrote.

Russell Crowe tweeted: "I saw Blazing Saddles seven times at the cinema with my school friends. George St. Cows outside. Gene Wilder you were a genius."

The director Edgar Wright asked for a moment of silence for Wilder, describing him as the master of the comedic pause.

"Gene Wilder: funny doing something and funny doing nothing," Wright added.

Eric McCormack, who played Will Truman in the long-running sitcom Will And Grace, said Wilder was "a genius I stole from constantly".

In 1997, Wilder won an Emmy for his guest appearance in the show - and McCormack added that he was "humbled and thrilled" to have worked with him.

Josh Gad, known appearing in Book Of Mormon and Frozen, described Wilder as "a supernova of unmatched energy on screen" - adding: "He dared you to take your eyes off him and we the audience always lost the bet."

Also paying tribute was the actor and writer Stephen Fry, who thanked Gene Wilder for "all those happy happy hours" in a tweet accompanied by a picture of Wilder as Willy Wonka.