I am reposting this blog entry from August 31, 2016 because I think it’s a good topic. Gene Wilder died in 2016, though, so please don’t think this is new news. It’s not. I just think the overall subject matter is worth a reshare. Sometimes people don’t think. The screen shot is from a tribute to Gene and Gilda. I have no problem with people memorializing them now, since Gene has been gone for five years. I just thought it was wrong to do it just after his death, when he left a wife behind who had been with him for 25 years.
In case you didn’t know, actor, screenwriter, director and author Gene Wilder died a couple of days ago. He had lived a very full life and was 83 years old at the time of his passing. He’d also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, which kept him out of the spotlight over the past few years.
I first became familiar with Gene Wilder in the 80s. He was still a fairly prolific actor back then. I still have not seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Young Frankenstein, but I did see The Woman in Red, Stir Crazy, and Blazing Saddles. I always thought he was funny and charming. I may have to read his novels, too. I bet they were excellent. But I am not writing about Gene Wilder this morning because I want to memorialize him.
Gene Wilder died a married man. His fourth wife, Karen, married him in 1991. That was twenty-five years ago. Karen stuck by him as he aged and got sick. He was married to her longer than he was the three wives before him combined.
But people seem to want to remember him with his third wife, Gilda Radner, the adorably funny comedienne who starred on Saturday Night Live in the 70s. They were married in 1984 in the South of France and their marriage ended tragically five years later, when Gilda got a very aggressive form of ovarian cancer. I read her book, It’s Always Something, when I was in high school. It was published in 1989, the year she died.
I will not dispute that Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner were deeply in love. I remember reading about their love in Gilda’s book. And I’m sure, if there is a Heaven, the two of them embraced and celebrated when he finally reached the Pearly Gates. Maybe they’re rejoicing being together again. I really don’t know.
What I do know is that Gene Wilder has a surviving wife here on planet Earth. And not even twenty-four hours after her husband’s death, a news article popped up about Gene and Gilda and their sad love story.
I get that Gene Wilder is timely news right now. I get that he and Gilda had a special love for each other. But, in my opinion, the media could have waited awhile before they went ahead with this reminder of Gene’s past love life. He has a widow now who is presumably grieving. Where is the deference for her? Couldn’t this reminder of Gene and Gilda have waited until the sheets had gone cold?
What kills me is that most of the comments I’ve read on that one story alone were very positive. They were all about how deeply Gene and Gilda loved each other. Only a few people spared a passing thought for Gene’s fourth wife, Karen, who must have also loved him very much. Most people were writing things like “What a beautiful love story!” “They are together again!” “Such a positive story for a change!” (really?). It just seems kind of thoughtless to me.
This issue is not new, though. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you may already know how I feel about a certain essay that regularly circuits the Internet. It’s called “Paradox of our Time” and it often gets falsely attributed to George Carlin, who read it and thought it was a “sappy load of shit”. The essay was, in fact, written by Dr. Bob Moorehead, a pastor. In fact, this is what Mr. Carlin himself had to say about “Paradox of our Time”.
“PARADOX OF OUR TIME”
One of the more embarrassing items making the internet/e-mail rounds is a sappy load of shit called “The Paradox of Our Time.” The main problem I have with it is that as true as some of the expressed sentiments may be, who really gives a shit? Certainly not me.
I figured out years ago that the human species is totally fucked and has been for a long time. I also know that the sick, media-consumer culture in America continues to make this so-called problem worse. But the trick, folks, is not to give a fuck. Like me. I really don’t care. I stopped worrying about all this temporal bullshit a long time ago. It’s meaningless. (See the preface of “Braindroppings.”)
Another problem I have with “Paradox” is that the ideas are all expressed in a sort of pseudo-spiritual, New-Age-y, “Gee-whiz-can’t-we-do-better-than-this” tone of voice. It’s not only bad prose and poetry, it’s weak philosophy. I hope I never sound like that.
But anyway, there is a version of “Paradox of our Time” circulating that adds a bit more to the essay. Some uninformed jerk decided to turn the essay into a love story by adding that Carlin wrote it right after his first wife, Brenda Carlin, died of liver cancer. Then, they add that Carlin quickly followed her to the grave.
Folks, Brenda Carlin died in May 1997 of liver cancer. George Carlin died in June 2008. And guess what? He had remarried! His second wife, Sally Wade, even published a book about their relationship. They were together for about ten years. “Paradox of our Time” was written in 1998, a year after Brenda Carlin died. But it was not inspired by her, nor was it written by George Carlin.
Now… I don’t know Sally Wade. I did read her book about life with George, though, and she strikes me as a pretty tough cookie. Still, I’m sure it was annoying to see her husband not only associated with a piece of writing that he thought was a “sappy load of shit”, but to also see people fabricating a false history. George Carlin did NOT die of a broken heart right after his first wife died, though he did die of heart failure about eleven years later. To fabricate a tall tale about how he “followed Brenda to the grave” is just disrespectful, not just to George, but also to his second wife, Sally.
I understand that people want to admire their heroes. People also love a good story. We’d like to think that love is forever and that when someone’s first true love dies, he or she is waiting for them up in Heaven. And maybe that’s what will happen– or maybe not. But if someone whose first love dies has the good fortune to love again, isn’t it more respectful and kind to pay deference to the person left behind when he or she passes? Maybe Karen came after Gilda and wasn’t as famous as Gilda was, but she stuck around for 25 years and presumably took care of Gene Wilder when he needed her the most.
In the case of Gene and Gilda, I would say it’s fine to write about their relationship at some point. They were genuinely in love with each other and I don’t think it’s wrong to wax poetic about that. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to romanticize Gene and Gilda when Gene hasn’t even been dead 24 hours and has a grieving widow now acutely dealing with his death. It’s just tacky and rude, and shows no consideration for his wife.
But… in the interest of not being a hypocrite, I will not go around flaming the people who do write about Gene and Gilda “together again at last”, even if it does make me shake my head… When it comes down to it, people have the right to express themselves, even if they’re being tacky and rude in the process.
Edited to add in 2021: Here is a link to an essay written by Karen Wilder, Gene Wilder’s widow, on what it was like to care for him at the end of his life.