Forever immortalized as the affable and witty Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder was one of the most prolific comedy stars of the 20th century. With a career spanning nearly half a century, Wilder amassed a considerable fortune. Celebrity Net Worth reports that at the time of his death in 2016, Wilder had a net worth of $20 million. But like most stories that end with riches, this one begins with rags.
Wilder began like every theater actor, doing regional and off-Broadway gigs until 1963 when he was cast opposite Anne Bancroft in the Broadway production of Mother Courage and Her Children. Through this gig, Wilder met and befriended Bancroft’s partner, writer and director Mel Brooks. According to Wilder’s obituary in The New York Times, it was a conversation about peacoats that set off this legendary friendship. Brooks, who was wearing a peacoat, said to Wilder, “You know, they used to call these urine jackets, but they didn’t sell.”
With Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder became a household name
Wilder told Larry King on CNN that he heard nothing from Brooks until three years later, when Brooks cast him as Leo Bloom in the cult classic film The Producers, the first in a string of hit collaborations between the actor and director. After starring in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wilder released two projects with Brooks in 1974: Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, the latter of which the pair wrote together.
Blazing Saddles, on the other hand, began Wilder’s partnership with another comedy legend, Richard Pryor. The two reunited in four feature films: Silver Streak in 1976, See No Evil, Hear No Evil in 1989, Another You in 1991, and most notably, Stir Crazy in 1980. Vulture included Skip Donahue and Henry Monroe, Stir Crazy‘s wrongfully imprisoned main characters, as one of the “15 Most Dynamic Duos in Pop Culture History.”
After a two-episode guest appearance on Will and Grace in 2003, a role for which he won an Emmy, Wilder retired from acting and became a writer, publishing three novels, a short story collection, and a memoir. Celebrity Net Worth reports that in 2013, just three years before his death, he sold his Bel-Air home to Elon Musk for $6.75 million. Even late in life, Wilder proved that there is always a buck — or a few million — to be made.
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