AlzU Blog

The Rita Hayward Gala's "Pure Imagination"' Fundraising Event Honors Gene Wilder, Who Died of Alzheimer's in 2016

Most high school students have fond memories of favorite childhood movies; among the most well-loved memories for many kids was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder.

Gene Wilder was well known as one of the world’s greatest entertainers, having starred in big movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Young Frankenstein.  In his award-winning role as Willy Wonka, Gene inspired the world to believe in the power of pure imagination. 

After his death in 2016, resulting from complications of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), The Alzheimer’s Association launched a special production of a video from Gene’s role as Willy Wonka, called “Pure Imagination.”  On May 12th, at the Chicago Hilton, The Rita Hayworth Gala will be honoring Gene’s life and his struggle with AD during this year’s event called “Pure Imagination.” The theme of the event involves imagining that anything is possible—including a world without Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our gala chairs Jon and Allie Harris are excited to bring you the magical world of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to celebrate the imaginative researchers, caregivers, and advocates that strive to fulfill our vision of a world without Alzheimer’s—a true golden ticket,” says the Rita Hayworth Gala/Alzheimer’s Association event web page.

The non-profit event was started by Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, the daughter of Rita Hayworth, after her mother died from complications of Alzheimer&‘s.  The Rita Hayworth Gala has raised over $74 million in total donations to help fight the cause and end Alzheimer’s disease. 

Gene and Karen Wilder

“I never pictured myself marrying a movie star. I also never saw myself spending years of my life taking care of one. But I’ve done both. Love was the reason for the first. Alzheimer’s disease, the second,” said Karen Wilder, spouse and caregiver of Gene Wilder (married 35 years to the late actor after the death of his former wife, Gilda Radner).

Wilder died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at age 83.  His wife, Karen, told ABC reporters that he never forgot who she was, up until the time of his death.  Gene’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman told news reporters that Wilder didn’t want the public to know about his Alzheimer’s diagnosis because he didn’t want to disappoint fans of Willy Wonka. “He was afraid that if the news got out about his condition, that the light would go from their [the fans] eyes, and they would not smile,” said Walker-Pearlman.  “He didn’t want to be responsible for one less smile in the world,” Walker-Pearlman added.

Karen Wilder’s Vision

“Neither my love, nor science, could save my husband’s life,“said Karen in an ABC News interview.  “But it’s my most profound hope that through research and awareness, others may be spared the experience that killed Gene,” she added.  The goal of supporting early diagnosis and finding a cure for the disease, prompted Karen Wilder’s decision to allow The Alzheimer’s Association to utilize a video clip of her late husband’s character, Willy Wonka, in the “Pure Imagination” Project campaign.  The campaign was designed to increase awareness about AD and encourage everyone of us to do our part in the fight for the cure—even if that part is simply to “imagine” a world without Alzheimer’s disease.

At this years’s Rita Hayward Gala event, Walker-Pearlman and Karen Wilder will be receiving the 2018 Pure Imagination award.  Learn more about the Rita Hayworth Gala, and how to purchase tickets, or donate to the cause, by CLICKING HERE.

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