James Corden honored Gene Wilder on Monday night following the 83-year-old actor’s death from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. “He was never anything less than brilliant at all times … He was just this magical person,” Corden said.
Corden recalled his first encounter with Wilder while he was doing theater in New York. “When you hear that Gene Wilder is in the audience, you’re just terrified,” Corden said. “The whole cast was like, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe he’s going to watch this play!’ It was incredible, and he came backstage afterwards.”
The two men exchanged emails, and Corden got back in touch when he landed the job as host of The Late Late Show. “We were planning out our first show, we opened with a Willy Wonka sketch … so I sent him an email asking if he’d do a bit in it,” Corden continued. “He sent me an email back … ‘Dearest James, I don’t do or go where you were hoping. But I’ll be looking for you. With my love, Gene.’ I was like, even the way he said no was so poetic!”
Corden’s bandleader, the comedian Reggie Watts, also remembered Wilder fondly. “I was a huge fan of his,” Watts said. “He kind of got me inspired to do comedy. His sense of humor was amazing. Also his teaming up with Richard Pryor — everything he did was just top-notch, high-class. I really, really, really enjoyed his presence.”