Gene Wilder died yesterday holding hands with his loved ones while listening to one of his favorite songs – which came on by chance as he took his last breath.
The much-loved Willy Wonka actor was surrounded by his family at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, when he died yesterday.
His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, revealed the touching final hours of Wilder’s life, in which the family gathered round for Wilder’s favorite meal – a chicken dinner.
The legendary comic actor, 83, lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease yesterday, a battle he kept secret because he did not want to upset his fans and ‘couldn’t bear the thought of one less smile in the world’.
Mr Walker-Pearlman said Wilder’s family were experiencing ‘indescribable sadness and blues’ after his death, and that it was ‘almost unbearable for us to contemplate our life without him’.
In a statement following the Young Frankenstein actor’s death, Wilder’s nephew revealed that he had chosen to keep his illness secret to avoid upsetting children.
‘The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children would smile or call out to him “there’s Willy Wonka,” would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion,’ Mr Walker-Pearlman said.
‘He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,’ the statement added.
Wilder was his same mischievous self right up until his death, and still enjoyed kissing his wife, Karen, and partaking in western movie marathons in his final weeks.
Mr Walker-Pearlman said he and other family members were holding Wilder’s hands at his bedside yesterday as he passed away.
He ‘passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember’, his nephew said.
‘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 favorites: Ella Fitzgerald. She was singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow as he was taken away.’
Mr Walker-Pearlman said Wilder’s death was more sudden than expected, and that he caught a flight ‘at the last minute.
‘For a day, we thought we had more than a few days,’ he told NPR.
‘At that last moment, we said our final goodbyes. We had a chicken dinner that my cousin Kevin made because it was his favorite.
‘And we went upstairs, and my wife had gone and said, the nurse says “it’s happening. It’s happening now”. He held my hand. He held my aunt’s hand.
And incredibly, on a random speaker playlist, Ella Fitzgerald, who was his favorite singer, started to sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow.’
Tributes flooded in for Wilder last night as stars of the silver screen paid their respects.
Friend and longtime collaborator Mel Brooks led the outpouring of emotion, attesting to the ‘magic’ that Wilder brought to the screen, including his most well-known role as Willy Wonka.
‘One of the truly great talents of our time,’ Mel Brooks tweeted on Monday. ‘He blessed every film we did with his magic & he blessed me with his friendship.’
Fellow comic Jim Carrey added: ‘Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take human form. If there’s a heaven, he has a golden ticket.’
This article originally appeared on the Daily Mail.