But behind the corkscrew hair, the bulging organ-stop eyes and the twitchy mannerisms, lay a much gentler, more reflective individual.
He was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on June 11, 1933.
He later described his childhood as “sane but disturbed” and was always drawn to acting by the “chance to be someone else”.
When he was eight years old, Wilder’s mother had a heart attack.
Her doctor took the confused child to one side and told him: “Don’t ever get angry with her, you might kill her.” He turned to leave and added: “You can make her laugh, though.”
For years Wilder harboured the belief that any harsh words would end his mother’s life.