Comedy legend Mel Brooks paid tribute to the late Gene Wilder Tuesday on The Tonight Show. “He was sick, and I knew it,” Brooks said. “And he was such a dear friend. I expected that he would go, but when it happens, it’s still tremendous. It’s a big shock. I’m still reeling from … no more Gene. I can’t call him. He was such a wonderful part of my life.”
Wilder, who died Monday at age 83 from Alzheimer’s complications, collaborated with Brooks on a series of landmark films such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Brooks reminisced to Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon about their hilarious first meeting.
“I met him when my late wife Anne Bancroft was doing Mother Courage, a Bertolt Brecht play, and Gene was in it,” he said. “He was the chaplain. He came backstage, and I got to know him a little bit. The chaplain is a great part – it’s sad and funny. It’s touching, and it can be amusing. So he said, ‘Why are they always laughing at me?’ I said, ‘Look in the mirror – blame it on God.’
“We became very good friends, and I told him about Leo Bloom in the thing I was writing called The Producers,” he continued. “And I said, ‘Look, I’m promising you: When we get the money, you are gonna be Leo Bloom.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, when you get the money. You’re doing a play about two Jews who are producing a flop instead of a hit, knowing they can make more money with a flop. And the big number in it is ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ Yeah, you’re gonna get the money!”
Brooks said, after securing the funding, he surprised Wilder backstage after another play and told the emotional actor the news. “He was taking off his make-up in his dressing room,” he said. “I took the script, and I said, ‘Gene, we got the money. We’re gonna make the movie. You are Leo Bloom.’ And I threw it on his make-up table. And he burst into tears and held his face and cried. And then I hugged him. It was a wonderful moment.”
Gene Wilder, ‘Willy Wonka’ and ‘Young Frankenstein’ star, died at the age of 83. Watch here.