‘West Side Story’ Actor Yvonne Wilder Dead at 84

by Kati Michelle

It’s been a bit of a rough last couple of weeks for Broadway fans. November 26th marked the death of the creative mastermind behind some of Broadway’s greatest works. Before his passing at the age of 91, Stephen Sondheim crafted the music and/or lyrics for hits like Follies, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, and West Side Story. Unfortunately, one of the cast members of the ’61 film adaptation of the latter has joined Sondheim on the other side. Yvonne Wilder has passed away at the age of 84.

Wilder actually performed in more than one adaptation of “West Side Story” over the years, playing a different role in each. She took on the role of Consuelo for Robert Wise’s adaptation and then the role of Anita for the West End production. The latter marked the first international touring production of the Bernstein-Sondheim musical. In some bittersweet news, it turns out that Sondheim and Wilder actually passed the same week with Yvonne Wilder’s death falling a couple of days beforehand on November 24th. Reports say she died at her Los Angeles home, revealing the sad news today.

Becoming Yvonne Wilder

Wilder wasn’t always Yvonne’s last name. She was actually born an “Othon” in the Bronx to a family with Puerto Rican and Cuban roots. She then spent a majority of her childhood in New York’s Upper West Side. Here, she attended New York’s prestigious High School of Performing Arts and later attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

The decision to change her name came about in the mid-1960s. Around this time, Wilder found herself part of a comedic duo with actor Jack Colvin. They often performed in West Hollywood together and made several appearances across a host of variety shows on TV. These included “The Tonight Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” among others.

The following years marked a busy and successful time in Wilder’s life. She took on several TV/film roles including “Seems Like Old Times,” “Silent Movie,” “Room 222,” “Archie Bunker’s Place,” and even “Full House.”

After meeting her third husband, Bob Kelljan, the two created a ’71 cult classic in the world of horror flicks known as “The Return of Count Yorga.”

Her talents went beyond acting and writing, however, with her attention turning to painting and sculpting during the ’90s. The Santa Monica Art Institute even showed some of her work.

Friends and Family Grieve the ‘West Side Story’ Star

Yvonne Wilder leaves behind her fifth husband, Zach Kleiman. They celebrated over 20 years of marriage and over 40 years of companionship together. Other survivors of the star include a son named Chris and two grandchildren.