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R.I.P. Gene Wilder, who brought both chocolate and meme factories to life

The legendary comedian dazzled on screen in the 1960s and '70s and continued to play a starring role in viral memes online in recent years.

Actor and author Gene Wilder autographs copies of his book "The Woman Who Wouldn't" at a Barnes & Noble in West Hollywood in 2008.

Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Gene Wilder, a comedy icon who entertained a generation on the screen and later fueled an online meme machine, is dead at 83.

His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said Wilder died Monday of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

When Wilder was at the top of his game in the 1970s, he was one of the biggest-name comic actors around, starring in classics like "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "The Producers" and "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask." That Woody Allen film, in which his character is falling in love with a sheep, will continue to make wearing wool even more uncomfortable for some people than it already is.

Health issues and a sometimes acerbic outlook on the world led Wilder to recede from fame as the years went on. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1989, the same year his wife Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer, a loss that reportedly devastated Wilder.

In the decades that followed, Wilder worked intermittently, starring in a short-lived sitcom, "Something Wilder," and making guest appearances on other shows like "Will and Grace."

The incredulous expression Wilder wore as Willy Wonka dealing with an onslaught of naughty children became the centerpiece of a "condescending/creepy Willy Wonka" meme that seemed to take over social media a few years back. A "Condescending Wonka" Twitter account makes little use of its namesake meme, but still has half a million followers on the strength of the name.

Following Wilder's death, his nephew addressed his uncle's battle with Alzheimer's.

"We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones -- this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality," his nephew said in a statement provided to Variety.

"The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn't vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him "there's Willy Wonka," would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world."

Tweet mentions of Wilder quickly topped 200,000 as of this writing Monday, with celebrities and fans alike sharing their sadness through the social media platform.

Ironically, at the time of his death, Wilder's own Twitter bio read "Too old for Twitter, too young to die!"

CNET's Amanda Kooser contributed to this report.