R.I.P. Gene Wilder

Back in the 1980s while growing up in a working class Modesto family, kids like myself counted the days between the free HBO previews; those magical weekends when the premium networks would remove all restrictions and give everyday people like us the chance to watch unedited, uncut, commercial free movies for forty-eight hours. As an only child obsessed with TV, I would beg my parents to buy me four or five blank VHS tapes each time these blessed instances would occur. I would then proceed to record as many movies as I possibly could while the limited offer lasted, then watch those films on repeat in my room before going to sleep each night. One of the most worn and weathered cassettes (so worn I had to really be sharp with the tracking button) was the one labeled See No Evil, Hear No Evil: one of the last great Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor buddy comedies. I must have watched that flick more than a hundred times back in the day. I could never get enough of it. The above photo pretty much sums up what exactly makes the film so endearing: a blind Richard Pryor constantly screaming at a deaf Gene Wilder who remains utterly calm and collected throughout the adventure because he can't hear a word Pryor is saying.

Every Gene Wilder tribute I've read over the last few days has focused on his most iconic roles: Willy Wonka, Young Frankenstein, etc—and rightly so. Those characters have become engrained in our pop culture collective as some of the most beloved and memorable in history. The most amazing thing about Gene Wilder as an actor for me was his ability to go from zero to a hundred and then back to zero again before you knew what had hit you. He had a twinkle in his eye at all times—a piercingly quizzical expression that said: I know a lot more than I'm letting on. I'll always adore the boat sequence in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where he builds the tension to a maniacal crescendo. I'll always love the smirk on his face as the Waco Kid disarms a herd of gun slingers in Blazing Saddles. But there's a scene in See No Evil, Hear No Evil (actually the one pictured in the image above) where a naive Richard Pryor tries to cure Wilder of his deafness by yelling in his ear at close range. Wilder's reaction is priceless. He sarcastically plays along, feigning perception, until finally boiling over and losing it. He grabs Pryor by the arm and screams: "No, schmuck; I'm deaf!! Now do you get it?!" and then shakes a shocked and fragile Pryor like a rag doll. To me, that's vintage Wilder.

R.I.P Gene Wilder. We loved you. I'm sure Gilda was right there waiting to welcome you home.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll