The Tears of a Clown, Unforgettable Gene Wilder

Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my surface hid
Smiling in the crowd I try
But in a lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown 

The lyrics of Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Hank Crosby (Stevie’s producer) are classic because they’re true.

People who are good at making you laugh are sad, or have known sadness.

People like Gene Wilder, may he rest in peace.

Young Jerome Silberman, born in Milwaukee to tempermental parents, who shipped him off to a California military academy, where he was beaten for being Jewish.

A lifelong fascination with psychiatry and acting, which he saw instinctively were related.

A fateful backstage encounter with a young Mel Brooks, leading to a torrent of laughs and collaborations.

The Donald Trump of candy, Willy Wonka. The Waco Kid. The aspirational Dr. Frankenstein (“that’s Fron-kon-steen!”)

Unhappy marriages—even these, fertile ground for humor. Finally, in middle age, a soulmate, Gilda Radner, taken quickly by ovarian cancer, for which he did fundraising and awareness-building the rest of his working life.

“We didn’t get along well, and that’s a fact. We just loved each other, and that’s a fact.” 

When, in the early 2000s, he admitted to being done with show business, because he liked the “show” but not the “business”, he wrote novels. “My French Whore” from 2007 was a not bad at all.

Of his acting, he wrote: “What do actors really want?…to be believed…is the hope all actors share.”

I always, always, believed Gene Wilder’s smile. In it was joy, invitation and mischief. It said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” And always, you were.

That madcap face, the zingy hair, the darting eyes, the characters he minted over five decades, all came from a sad, sympathetic place.

He had been there, we have been there, but at least we could laugh.

And did we.

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