Dear Mr Wilder,
This one hit me hard. It hurt all the way through my heart. When I heard the news about your death, I cried solidly for some time before I was able to wrap my head around it and get on with the rest of the day. In fact, it has taken me a few days to process your death and write this letter for you, mostly because I don’t know what I could say that could even remotely do justice to you and your work.
Like most children, my first encounter with your work was your infamous role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I won’t lie; your performance scared me as much as it excited me. You were equal parts wonder and terror and it was this very performance that played a massive role in teaching me that people weren’t at all what they seemed. The scene where Wonka went into a rage and told Charlie there was no prize at the end still makes me nervous, even to this day, and frightened me endlessly as a child, but it taught me something important as well – it taught me to pay attention to people and their actions. I equally remember the moment you made your entrance and hobbled out with that cane, tumbling into a somersault in front of the roaring crowd, and to this day it still makes me giggle. Being older now, I can appreciate your humorous delivery of many wry lines in that film even more.
When I was older, my parents introduced me to the films of Mel Brooks, and there you were again, making me laugh to the point of tears. When I needed you most, there you were, as the Waco Kid or Young Frankenstein, a constant comic genius. You’d make the Wild West a little more wild, and do “Puttin’ on the Ritz” intensely comic justice. And you would be the epitome of cool – so straight faced and cheeky all at once, the only hint of mischief slipping through in your eyes or in your smile. You were and still are one of my favourite actors, and people of all time, a role model that I didn’t know I needed until I found your name in my mouth when people asked me who my role models were. When my light went out, you always reached out your hand, smiled at me with that glint in your eyes, and pulled me into a crazy and delightful world of comedy and fun. You wouldn’t just turn my light back on, you’d do it with a fireworks show. And for that, I couldn’t be more thankful.
So thank you, for Wonka, for Waco, for Frederick, for the Mockturtle, for Mr Stein, for all of it. For every time you went wild on the screen and made my sides hurt because was I laughing so hard. For all the ways you taught me to imagine and to dream. For licking the wallpaper. Because even though you are gone, to me, you’ll always be sitting in a room full of chocolate, drinking tea out of a buttercup and telling me that if I want to change the world, there’s nothing to it. And that is a lesson I am endlessly grateful for.
You didn’t want anyone to know you were ill, because you couldn’t bear the thought of one less smile in the world. But there is; that magic smile that always shone light into our lives. And I’ll dearly miss it, and you Gene, as so many of us will.
Vale Mr Wilder.
With all my heart,
© Hayley New 2016