Mel Brooks has paid tribute to the late comedic actor Gene Wilder.
Wilder passed away on Monday (August 29) aged 83 as a result of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989.
Wilder worked extensively with the legendary writer, director and comedy actor Brooks, most notably in 1974 on the iconic comedy films Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The latter earned the duo an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last night (August 30), Brooks paid tribute to Wilder as his “dear friend.”
“He was sick, and I knew it,” Brooks said. “And he was such a dear friend. I expected that he would go, but when it happens, it’s still tremendous. It’s a big shock. I’m still reeling from… [there being] no more Gene. I can’t call him. He was such a wonderful part of my life.”
As well as discussing how the two put together the cast list for Young Frankenstein, Brooks also reminisced about how they first met at a production of the Bertolt Brecht play Mother Courage.
“My late wife Anne Bancroft was doing Mother Courage, and Gene was in it,” Brooks said. “He was the chaplain. He came backstage, and I got to know him a little bit. The chaplain is a great part – it’s sad and funny. It’s touching, and it can be amusing. So he said, ‘Why are they always laughing at me?’ I said, ‘Look in the mirror – blame it on God.'”
He then brought up the pair’s first major work together on the 1968 satire film The Producers, which Wilder starred in as Leo Bloom, one of the two lead roles.
“We became very good friends, and I told him about Leo Bloom in the thing I was writing called The Producers,” Brooks remembered. “And I said, ‘Look, I’m promising you: when we get the money, you are gonna be Leo Bloom.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, when you get the money. You’re doing a play about two Jews who are producing a flop instead of a hit, knowing they can make more money with a flop. And the big number in it is ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ Yeah, you’re gonna get the money!”
The director then explained that he managed to secure funding for The Producers, and that he then went to tell the news to Wilder, who was backstage doing another play. “He was taking off his make-up in his dressing room, I took the script, and I said, ‘Gene, we got the money. We’re gonna make the movie. You are Leo Bloom.’ And I threw it on his make-up table. And he burst into tears and held his face and cried. And then I hugged him. It was a wonderful moment.”
Watch the interview with Fallon below.