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Kelly Le Brock was boarding a flight to Bermuda about four years ago when she ran into an old friend: Gene Wilder.
“I hadn’t seen Gene in a thousand years,” the 56-year-old actress remembers of her last encounter with Wilder, whom she starred with in The Woman in Red. “But there he was in the last row of first class. He looked so fragile! We both started crying. I held his hand and told him how much I loved him.”
The two-time Oscar nominee and comic actor of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Producers and Blazing Saddles fame died Sunday night in his home in Stamford, Conn., after a three-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.
In the 30-plus years since Wilder cast Le Brock in her first film role as the mysterious beauty Wilder’s character pursues in 1984 romantic farce Woman in Red, the two had remained friends, visiting each other’s homes and keeping in touch over the phone.
“He was very different off-screen,” Le Brock tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He was the funny man on-screen but in reality, he wasn’t funny. He was very quiet and kind of shy. He’d get very demonstrative telling a story — that’s when you’d see him come alive.”
She continued: “But the Gene that I knew and that I loved was quiet. He loved his meals and his wine. He loved Europe. He loved writing. He was happy being in Connecticut in the house that he and Gilda [Radner, his late wife] lived in. But he was bitter in some places, certainly. About his childhood, about losing Gilda. I think he would have liked to have had children with Gilda. They tried very hard. That was a source of sadness.”
Le Brock spoke to Wilder on the phone about a year ago — “and we would email, as well,” she says — but it was on that flight to Bermuda in 2012 that she would last see her friend and hold his hand.
“Believe it or not,” she says, “that plane got struck by lightning. I watched the left wing on fire. I thought we were all going down.”
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