Today, let's remember Gene Wilder by momentarily forgetting about the Willy Wonka we all like to talk about -- the crazy, scary, borderline insane, slightly sadistic child torturer. Everyone knows Willy Wonka was off his rocker.
But he was also kind.
He had a heart that might have had a hard, dark chocolate coating, but was filled with beautiful, golden love on the inside.
Watch the clip at the beginning of this post. Remember this Willy Wonka. Not the one who screams, "You lose!" ... but the one who joyously shouts, "You won!"
The one who tells Charlie that the traits most worth rewarding are to be honest and to be loving.
Gene Wilder made every child believe that he or she could behave like Charlie Bucket, even when we knew we were really acting more like Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teevee and Augustus Gloop.
Gene Wilder made us believe that Willy Wonka would see through our rottenness and find the good.
Gene Wilder made many movies. He was good in all of them, even the bad ones.
But he was never better than he was as Willy Wonka. Thank you, Gene Wilder, for reminding us, no matter how old we are, that as adults we can be mean and scary and angry, we can frighten children sometimes with our unpredictable behavior, but at our best, when we do those things it's because we care. Because we want children to be better.
Because we want ourselves to be better.
Gene Wilder reminded us that it was always possible to be better -- to reward our better selves, and to be rewarded for the effort.
He made other movies, even movies that mattered, but none ever mattered to me quite like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and that was because of Gene Wilder.
May the universe look kindly upon him tonight. And always.