(NEW YORK) — Mel Brooks says he’s “still reeling” from the death of his good friend and frequent film partner, Gene Wilder, who died Monday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 83.
“He was sick and I knew it,” Brooks, 90, told Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday night’s The Tonight Show. “I expected he would go. When it happens, it’s still tremendous…it’s a big shock…I’m still reeling…he was such a wonderful part of my life.”
Brooks and Wilder’s professional partnership began when Brooks cast Wilder as accountant Leo Bloom in his 1968 film The Producers, opposite Zero Mostel, as a down-and-out Broadway producer. The two hatch a plan to bilk money from investors by intentionally producing a flop, only to see their plan backfire when the play turns out to be a hit. Brooks recalls Wilder doubted the project would see the light of day.
“You’re doing a play about two Jews who are producing a flop instead of a hit, knowing they could make more money with a flop, and the big number in it is ‘Springtime for Hitler?'” Brooks recalls Wilder saying, then adding sarcastically, “Yeah, you’re gonna get the money.”
Brooks told Fallon that later, “I took the script and I said, ‘Gene, we got the money. We’re gonna make the movie, you are Leo Bloom.'”
“He burst into tears and held his face and cried, and then I hugged him,” adds Brooks. “It was a wonderful moment.”
Brooks visited The Tonight Show to plug his upcoming book, Young Frankenstein: The Story of the Making of the Film, coming out in October, as well as his tour, Mel Brooks: Back in the Saddle Again, in which a screening of his classic comedy Blazing Saddles is followed by a conversation with the beloved funnyman.
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