Milwaukee native Gene Wilder dies at 83

Posted at 2:28 PM, Aug 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 11:36:12-04
MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee native Gene Wilder, who established himself as one of the nation's foremost comic actors, died Sunday in his Connecticut home.  The actor grew up in the Sherman Park neighborhood and went to Washington High School where at that time he was Jerome Silberman, or Jerry. 

Senior year the actor played an attorney in his school play "The Night of January 16th."  Wilder received an Outstanding Achievement Award for Drama at Washington High School.   A high school drama teacher encouraged Wilder to take acting seriously. 

"It seemed like he was in a lot of the plays, a little bit more than some others," explained Linda Durrenberg, Washington High School Alumni Historian. 

Wilder was the Vice President of the Washington Players, but he didn't spend all of his time in high school on stage.  He was on the debate team, he was in Spanish Club, and he was a cafeteria monitor.  

The actor graduated from Washington High School in 1951 and left Milwaukee to pursue his career in acting. 

Wilder later married "Saturday Night Live" Comedian Gilda Radner.  After she passed away from ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder helped start an international network of support centers for women, men, and children impacted by cancer called 'Gilda's Club.' There is a center in Madison.

"It really is part of his legacy that families who are facing cancer can get support they need...and starting something like Gilda's Club was truly an innovation," said Lannia Stenz, Executice Director of Gilda's Club Madison.

TODAY'S TMJ4 was there when Wilder was inducted into the Wisconsin Performing Artists Hall of Fame in 1991.  Wilder told us then his favorite role was Young Frankenstein. 

"I was in that world in Transilvania in 1939 and I didn't want to leave it.  Strange to say I didn't want to leave," said Wilder.