Retirement Lessons from Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Unlike many movie stars, Gene Wilder did retirement right.

Gene Wilder’s glory years came too late for the Golden Age of Hollywood and too early for the modern era of $50 million superstars, but he did well enough to walk away after a couple of decades.

In an industry where performers in their 80s and 90s outlive their savings and need to keep working into the grave to pay the bills, that’s an achievement.

While the details of his estate have not been made public, there are a number if things we do know.

Gene Wilder died somewhere between filthy rich and flat broke, spending down his cash while remaining comfortable to the end, which came last week from Alzheimer’s complications…

Wilder retired at 58 to do what he enjoyed, writing his memoirs while living in a relatively modest home in Connecticut with his wife.  While he was active in ovarian cancer charities, it’s unclear how much he gave to them other than lending his celebrity to the charities he favored.

After all, the spouse is the only estate planning goal retirees really need to consider. Everything else — from philanthropy to dynastic heirs — comes second.

The lessons here are simple, yet unusual in the entertainment business – whether we’re talking about movies or sports.  Too often highly paid entertainers adopt a lifestyle that absorbs all of their income.  That means that if their careers end after a few years they need to begin a new career.  The alternative is to end up broke.

Wilder put enough aside while he was working to allow him to live in the style he enjoyed for 25 years after retiring and leave his wife in comfort after he passed away.  It’s a lesson for all of us who are not movie stars.  Know what we want, save so that we can afford it, and retire when we’re ready to walk away and leave it all behind.

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