Gene Wilder’s nephew reveals why his illness was kept secret, and it had nothing to do with vanity

Acting and comedic legend Gene Wilder died while listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow; that’s according to a touching statement released by his nephew Jordan Walker Pearlman.

This Monday, Wilder passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 83-years-old.

In the statement, Pearlman talked about Wilder’s final moments, but also revealed why the actor and his family chose to keep his illness private – a reason that had nothing to do with “vanity.”

“The choice to keep this private was his choice, in talking with us and making a decision as a family,” Pearlman wrote.

“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones — this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality. It took enough, but not that.”

According to Pearlman, as the diseased progressed, Wilder was still widely recognized by fans when he would go out, and many of those fans were children.

“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him ‘there’s Willy Wonka,’ would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”

But the most touching part of the statement was Pearlman’s description of Wilder’s last moments.

“He was eighty-three and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember. As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath the music speaker, which was set to random, began to bare out one of his favorites: Ella Fitzgerald. There is a picture of he and Ella meeting at a London bistro some years ago that are among each our cherished possessions. She was singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ as he was taken away.”

You can read the entire statement here.

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