Rachel Sanoff
August 30, 2016 11:54 am
Paramount Pictures

The world is mourning the passing of the magical, legendary, hilarious, and supremely talented actor, Gene Wilder, who left us yesterday after a private battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Wilder will stay alive forever as Dr. Frankenstein from Young Frankenstein, Leo Bloom from The Producers, and — of course — Willy Wonka (just to name a few of his iconic roles).

Gene Wilder’s performance as Willy Wonka in 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is one of his most beloved performances, and the story of a ragtag group of children following the mysterious Wonka around his magical candy factory — based on the book by Roald Dahl — has delighted audiences for decades.

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One of those children was Veruca Salt, the spoiled little rich girl whose bratty behavior results in her falling down a garbage chute in Wonka’s factory.

“She was a bad egg.”

Julie Dawn Cole played the character of Veruca Salt in the film when she was a child, and Cole spoke to The Mirror about the almost unbelievable loss of Gene Wilder.

Cole said:

“We knew he was getting older and becoming frail, but it’s still a shock. You expect Mr Wonka to go on forever. He was a lovely, lovely man — very warm, gentle and sincere.”

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And Wilder’s kindness is part of why all of the Willy Wonka children have stayed in touch with each other over the decades, seeing one another in person once or twice a year, says Cole:

“He would have the kids bouncing around all over him and he never said to go away or anything. He was kind and friendly — we were like one big family.”

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Cole remembers the very special gift that Wilder gave her for her 13th birthday on set:

“I had my 13th birthday during filming and he arranged for a photographer to come and take colour stills of me, which were very rare back then.”

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And perhaps most moving of all, Cole says she saw Wilder for the last time 10 years ago at one of his London stage shows. After the performance, the two caught up with one another, when Mr. Wonka himself told her:

“I guess Veruca was not such a bad egg after all.”

Thanks for everything, Gene Wilder.