Stamford resident Gene Wilder remembered across state for his comedic style, genuine kindness

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STAMFORD--From "Willy Wonka" to "Blazing Saddles," from "Young Frankenstein" to "The Producers," Gene Wilder covered every type of role during his acting career.

On Monday, the family of the beloved actor announced that he had died at the age of 83 from complications with Alzheimer's disease.

But the community of Stamford, where Wilder lived for more than a decade, will never forget his contributions and kindness.

"He'd say 'hi' to everybody," remembered Tom DeMayo, the manager at LaRocca's Country Market in Stamford, where Wilder had lunch most days.

Gene Wilder 2 shotBut he formed bonds with locals beyond just a friendly wave and "hello."

DeMayo reminisced about a conversation the two had. "I works for Nestlé foods at one time so I actually sold Walker candies for 32 years. So I go to Gene, 'Gene who is the real Willy Wonka, me or you?' He goes, 'You Tom.' I go, 'Who's the real comedian.' He goes, 'You Tom.' Nice guy, great guy."

Then there were the local theaters.

The Avon Theatre Film Center, which is located in Stamford, was home to an annual series called "Wilder's Picks." The comedic actor would pick out some of his favorite movies--not ones that he was in!--and provide his funny commentary for viewers. The theater said fans would come to the event from across the country, and he'd often surprise them with an interview on commentary on a movie he had starred in.

"While it has always been apparent to the world that Gene was blessed with acting, writing and comedic abilities that made him an extremely rare talent, our relationship with Gene enabled us to learn that he was also a wonderful human being - kind, humble, engaging, gracious and genuine," the Avon Theatre wrote on its Facebook page.

The Shubert Theater in New Haven also posted a tribute to one of their acting legends.

"We're proud that he was a part of our legendary history performing numerous times on our stage including the World Premiere of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," the theater wrote.

Wilder got his start on Broadway, so his ties to local theater productions isn't shocking. However, after bit roles in movies like "Bonnie and Clyde," a chance meeting with Mel Brooks led to a career of starring roles in hit moves.

Wilder once spoke about his supporting role in Brooks' film adaptation of "The Producers," saying, "If I hadn't done that movie and been nominated for an Academy Award and all that, I think I'd still be doing supporting roles on Broadway."

In his personal life, Wilder married "Saturday Night Live" star Gilda Radner, but unfortunately lost her to ovarian cancer just five years into their marriage. He started an organization, Gilda's Club, so that people dealing with the hardships cancer poses could talk to one another. Wilder even beat his own battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1999.

Wilder remarried his current wife, Karen, in 1991, and the two lived in Stamford for years.

"I'll miss him, he was a great guy, a great customer to super guy," DeMayo added about one of his favorite customers.

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