Gene Wilder, remembered by many for his namesake role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, died at the age of 83, his family confirmed on Monday.
The comedic actor also starred in classic films such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
He teamed up with actor Richard Pryor multiple times in his career. Here’s a look at their relationship.
1. Wilder & Pryor Starred in 4 Films Together
The storied history between the comedians began when Wilder was cast as the lead in 1974’s Blazing Saddles, co-written by Mel Brooks and Pryor. Pryor was originally supposed to co-star in the film, but the part went to Cleavon Little instead.
Wilder and Pryor then teamed up on the comedy Silver Streak (1976), and later, Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991).
2. Wilder Said He First Formed a Relationship with Pryor in 1976
Wilder said he and Pryor got to know each other on the set of the 1976 comedy Silver Streak, when he hosted a screening of See No Evil, Hear No Evil in 2013.
“Then we did Stir Crazy and Richard was a bad boy,” Wilder said, according to the Stamford Advocate. “He would come to the set 15 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour, an hour and a half late and it would bug all of us. I didn’t want to say anything because I wanted it to go on.”
Wilder said they always appreciated each other as actors, according to the paper. He added that from the start, the two improvised well together.
In an interview from 2007, Wilder recalled the first scene they filmed:
He said his first line, I said my first line, and then this other line comes out of him. I had no idea where it came from, but I didn’t question it. I just responded naturally, I didn’t try to think of a clever line, which is the great death-trap for actors. If you’re improvising and you say, ‘I’ll think of one that’s even funnier than that, or more clever than that,’ no— I just said what came naturally in the situation because that’s what I was used to. Then he said a line, then I said a line, then he went back to the script and then he came away, and everything we did together was like that.
3. Pryor Struggled With Drug Addiction When They Filmed ‘Stir Crazy’
During the period of time Stir Crazy was filmed, Pryor was experiencing problems with drug abuse. In 1980, the same year Stir Crazy was released, Pryor set himself on fire after free-basing cocaine and drinking 151-proof rum.
Pryor’s near-fatal addiction was the main subject of his autobiographical film, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, which recounts his journey as a comedian, and the personal struggles he faced.
Pryor died in 2005 at the age of 65 from a heart attack.
4. ‘Trading Places’ Was Originally Written for Wilder & Pryor
The script for the classic comedy, Trading Places was developed for Wilder and Pryor. However, it was the same time that Pryor had burnt himself. As a result, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy received the lead roles instead.
The comedy is about two extremely wealthy yet bored brothers, who swap out a well-to-do finance guy in their company (Dan Aykroyd) with a homeless conman (Eddie Murphy).
The film, directed by John Landis, was the fourth highest grossing film of 1983— making over $90 million. It earned praise from Roger Ebert who said, “This is good comedy.”
5. Wilder Wrote & Directed Their Last 2 Films Together
Wilder wrote and directed the pair’s final two films together: See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991).
See No Evil, Hear No Evil stars Richard Pryor as a blind man and Gene Wilder as a deaf man who work together to stop a trio of murderous thieves. The movie was No. 1 at the box office for two weeks.
Pryor loved making the movie and behaved while doing it, Wilder said, according to the Stamford Advocate.
“It’s funnier than I thought,” he said following a screening in 2013. “Richard was really good in it.”
The goofy duo gets blamed for a murder they didn’t commit and have to overcome many obstacles to prove their innocence.
Critic Vincent Canby called it “by far the most successful co-starring vehicle for Mr. Pryor and Mr. Wilder,” but also described the film “this is not elegant movie making, and not all of the gags are equally clever.”
During their last collaboration, Another You, Pryor was going through personal problems again. It would be the final major film for either of them.
In a review, critic Michael Wilmington said the plot came up short, however he admitted the two “have something special when they interact.”
He wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
It’s a plot full of double meanings, double appearances, lies upon lies and it climaxes with Wilder hugging his co-lead for a snapshot while holding up a sign that reads “Partners Forever.” Obviously, this moment has little to do with the story. It’s a kind of public statement of affection and allegiance from Wilder to Pryor and there’s something almost touching about it: a little charge of emotion that the movie itself hasn’t really earned.
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