Original Willy Wonka stars now - drastic career change and sad deaths

by 24britishtvMarch 31, 2024, 2 p.m. 23
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A recent prequel brought the much-loved characters from the original film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory back into the spotlight.

The classic 1971 movie adaptation starred actor Gene Wilder as the eccentric inventor with Peter Ostrum playing Charlie Bucket, one of the lucky recipients of a Golden Ticket. Roald Dahl's much-loved book was remade into Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka with Helena Bonham Carter and Christopher Lee among the stellar cast.

Timothée Chalamet next took on the main role in last year's prequel Wonka, with Hugh Grant playing an Oompa-Loompa. From career changes to tragic deaths, the fortunes of the actors from the original 1970s film have varied. We take a closer look...

American actor Peter Ostrum was only 12 years old when he played Charlie Bucket. The wide-eyed Golden Ticket winner managed to survive the factory and was even handed the keys after impressing Willy Wonka. As Ostrum had not worked in film before, Willy Wonka actor Gene Wilder took it upon himself to instruct the young actor in the business and they developed a close bond.

The young actor became a household name but turned down the offer of a three-film contract and did not act again. For years, Ostrum refused to talk about the movie and sometimes even lied and claimed his brother had starred in the film - even to his wife at first. However, since 1990 he has spoken to students once a year about his experiences on set and shown fondness for the movie.

Having been a child actor, Ostrum went down a completely different career path and became a vet. After becoming interested in horses, he attended Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and received his doctorate in 1984. Ostrum also took part in Veterinarians on Call, a Pfizer-funded video series that highlighted the work of large animal veterinarians.

Popular actor Gene Wilder brought Roald Dahl's beloved character to life. Wilder's portrayal of the mysterious, eccentric chocolate factory owner is widely considered to be the best and earned him a Golden Globe nomination. The actor only accepted the role on the condition he could make his first grand entrance using a cane before shocking the crowd with a somersault - and the scene is one of the best in the entire film.

He was also well known for appearing in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and Stir Crazy. Wilder, who had battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1989, was known as a comic genius whose timing made him a favourite of Hollywood directors. His last acting appearance was in a guest role on Will & Grace in 2003, for which he received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor.

Wilder tragically died in August 2016 at the age of 83 after secretly battling Alzheimer's for the last three years of his life. His nephew revealed the actor had chosen to keep his Alzheimer's secret so that children who knew him as Willy Wonka would not equate the whimsical character with an adult disease.

The news of his death led to an outpouring of grief from Hollywood with his friend Mel Brooks leading the tributes. The director and actor said: "Gene Wilder - one of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic and he blessed me with his friendship."

Denise Nickerson was just 13-years-old when she played gum-chewing Violet Beauregade. Her character famously blew up into a giant blueberry after stealing some new experimental gum which tastes like an entire meal in your mouth and was rolled out of the factory.

Afterwards, she went on to enjoy a career in TV appearing in shows such as The Brady Bunch, The Electric Company and Dark Shadows. However, her career faltered in the mid-1970s when she was left badly injured in a car accident and broke her leg. She was unable to work for almost a year, but she eventually managed to return to acting.

Denise quit acting in 1978 when she was 21 and spent the rest of her life mostly out of the spotlight, becoming a receptionist and an accountant in a doctor's office. Sadly, Denise suffered a stroke in June 2018 and was hospitalised, then the following year contracted pneumonia.

She suffered a seizure which led to a "coma-like" state from which she never recovered and died in July 2019 aged 62. Her heartbroken family revealed her last wishes were to be cremated and her ashes turned into glasswork.

German child star Michaell Bollner famously fell into the chocolate river while playing greedy Augustus Gloop. Although he later burst the magical bubble by revealing it was actually fake. "It was water," Michael admitted four decades on. The actor confessed he couldn't speak a lot of English at the time of filming and he was gutted he couldn't chat with his castmates.

When Gene Wilder died, he said: "I didn't have a huge amount of contact with him as my English was very poor at that time and his German wasn't so good. I regret not speaking to him again in the years after the film when my English had improved." The young actor wanted to carry on acting but his dad made him finish school - and Bollner now runs his own accounting firm in Munich.

English actress Julie Dawn Cole played brat Veruca Salt, who ended up falling down a rubbish chute because of some squirrels. While 12-year-old Julie was nothing like her obnoxious character, she did enjoy embracing her inner bad girl for the role. "Usually your parents are telling you, 'Don't do this. Don't do that.' And we had Mel Stuart, our director, saying, 'Be meaner!',' she explained.

After starring in the film she was often typecast as the 'bad girl' in shows such as And Mother Makes Three, Saturday Night Theatre and Within These Walls. Her breakout role was in BBC medical drama Angels and she was also in the origin run of Poldark, EastEnders and Emmerdale.

She played Pam Feeny in two episodes of Holby City in 2013. Away from acting, Julie qualified as a fitness instructor and was an advisor on 2005 ITV series Fat Families.

Paris Themmen played TV-obsessed Mike TeeVee in the film, who was shrunk down to a tiny size after messing with Willy Wonka's invention. The American actor decided to go on hiatus from acting aged 14 so he could focus on "just being a kid".

He has since appeared in Star Trek: Voyager and made appearances on Daybreak and some American game shows. His career has gone in all sorts of directions, as he founded a travel service that arranged Europe-bound charter flights for backpackers.

The former actor also went into real estate, film production, commercial casting and business representation at Walt Disney Imagineering. Themmen does a lot of movie conventions and has described the original cast members as "family".

The Oompa-Loompas worked in the factory in exchange for cocoa beans. There were dozens of Willy Wonka's workers in the movie, but Rusty Goffe was one of the most memorable. Although he is barely recognisable now because he's ditched the green hair and orange skin.

The 75-year-old actor played numerous aliens in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, including a Jawa. Younger generations may recognise him as purple gremlin butler Goober from CBBC show Stupid!. He admitted that reuniting with his former cast mates was "scary", explaining: "When we made the movie, they were kids!"

Watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory today, 12.25 pm on ITV1

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