Wilder’s nephew said last night the actor and writer died aged 83 at his home in Connecticut from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Jordan Walker-Pearlman said Wilder was diagnosed three years ago but kept the condition private so as not to disappoint fans.
“He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” Mr Walker-Pearlman said.
His friend Mel Brooks, who directed The Producers, the classic comedy in which Wilder starred, said on Twitter: “Gene Wilder – one of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic and he blessed me with his friendship.”
One of Wilder’s best known films is Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, in which he played Roald Dahl’s enchanting confectioner.
Comedian and presenter Dara O Briain tweeted: “Sad news, but such a life well lived. For me, Young Frankenstein just pips Wonka, but so many wonderful performances. Expecting to hear people were fans of Blazing Saddles, Producers and Stir Crazy, but amazing number going for See No Evil, Hear No Evil.”
Stephen Fry tweeted: “Farewell #GeneWilder, comic genius. Thank you for all those happy, happy hours.”
With his unkempt hair and big, bug eyes, Wilder was a master at playing panicked characters caught up in schemes that only a madman such as Brooks could devise, whether reviving a monster in Young Frankenstein or swindling Broadway in The Producers. His most outlandish role was perhaps a therapist having an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.
He was close friends with Richard Pryor and their contrasting personas were ideal for comedy.
They co-starred in four films: Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You.