Are you a fan of the now-classic Mel Brooks’ comedy Blazing Saddles? It’s a hilarious comedy-Western film that showcases Mel Brooks’ brilliance – with slapstick, wit, and even great satire on racial issues.
The film was a success because of Mel Brooks’ brilliant writing and direction. In fact, he wrote the script with a great team of writers…including a famous comedian and actor who was originally set to star in the film…but more on that in just a bit.
But what made the film a huge success were the cast members. Sadly, some of the main Blazing Saddles cast members have since passed away. Their roles in this film were arguably some of the best performances during their careers.
Join FactsVerse to learn about how each Blazing Saddles cast member died and about their incredible lives and careers…
Cleavon Little was born on June 1st, 1939, in Chickasha, Oklahoma. He grew up in San Diego, California, and went on to attend San Diego State College where he majored in speech therapy. It was during this time that he appeared in a role in the famous play A Raisin in the Sun. He later honed his acting skills at The Julliard School and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
His professional acting debut came in 1967 when he appeared in the off-Broadway play MacBird. For the remainder of the decade, he appeared in a slew of back-to-back plays including Ossie Davis’ hit musical Purlie for which Cleavon bagged a Tony Award.
He also began appearing in films and TV shows at this time. His first major film role was in the 1970 blaxploitation film Cotton Comes To Harlem. His big break, however, came in the TV series Temperatures Rising – in which he played Dr. Jerry Noland.
But his biggest break was when he played Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles. He wasn’t the original choice, as we mentioned in our intro, but it was decided that a newcomer who was still a relatively fresh face would be the ideal choice to play a black sheriff in an all-white town.
Cleavon Little became a huge star following the release of Blazing Saddles and he never looked back after that. He focused mainly on films for the remainder of his career.
His notable film work includes roles in:
- Greased Lightning
- The Salamander
- Jimmy The Kid
- Toy Soldiers
- Fletch Lives
- Murder By Numbers and
- Goin’ To Chicago – his final film role
Cleavon Little died a year after his final film was released. He had contracted colon cancer and died at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 53.
Before we tell you more about how each Blazing Saddles cast member died, why not click the ‘join’ button below this video to become a FactsVerse member? You’ll get exclusive access to members-only content including our videos that are just for mature audiences. Now, let’s get back to the video…
If you know American cinema – then you know about Gene Wilder’s irrefutable contribution and his wide variety of roles especially in the comedy genre.
He was born on June 11, 1933, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gene began taking acting classes at the age of 13. He would later hone his skills at the Old Vic Theatre in Bristol, England. He also studied the Stanislavski method upon returning to the USA.
His first film role was in the 1967 crime film Bonnie and Clyde where he played the supporting role of Eugene Grizzard. But his big break came later that year when he co-starred with Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’ first feature film The Producers.
This brilliant film introduced us to Mel Brooks’ unique style of humor. It also showed us that Gene Wilder was the perfect actor to play Mel Brooks’ idiosyncratic characters. In Blazing Saddles, he played Jim “The Waco Kid.” This hapless cowboy was still one of his earliest roles and went on to become one of his best-known roles.
The 1970s and 1980s were arguably the best decades for Gene Wilder. His most famous role might have been as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory – which is what made him a star. Gene also starred in a series of great comedies alongside another actor who has a connection with Blazing Saddles – but hang in there, we’ll get there soon!
Gene decided to retire from acting rather early. He appeared in two films in the 1990s – Funny About Love and Another You. In 2005, he narrated the documentary Expo: Magic of the White City.
Gene Wilder died on August 29, 2016, at the age of 83, in Stamford, Connecticut.
Louis Burton Lindley Jr. was born on June 29, 1919, in Kingsburg, California. His father, Louis Sr., was a dairy farmer and young Junior spent much of his early life living a lifestyle similar to that of the Old West – which made him perfect for his eventual role in Blazing Saddles.
He became skilled in horse riding at a young age and tried his hand at rodeo. However, he was once told by his manager that there was little chance that he’d earn money from competitions. His manager used the phrase ‘slim pickings’ referring to the slim chance of Louis winning money. It was at this time when Louis decided to adopt the professional name, Slim Pickens.
Slim Pickens did eventually have a successful career in rodeo for about 20 years. He then decided to pursue a career in acting. He appeared mostly in Westerns and often played himself or a character based on his personality and his name.
His most popular film roles in comedy films were in Dr. Strangelove and Blazing Saddles. He later won praise for his role in Marlon Brando’s film One Eyed Jacks. Following his work in Blazing Saddles, he began appearing in comedy films more often.
His notable film roles also included:
- Major Dundee
- The Getaway
- Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid
- The Apple Dumpling Gang
- Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
- Tom Horn
- Honeysuckle Rose
- Christmas Mountain
His final film role was in the sex comedy film Pink Motel – released in 1982. Slim Pickens died the following year after his surgery to remove a brain tumor and one of the Blazing Saddles cast member died.
Harvey Korman was born on February 15, 1927, in Chicago. He served in the US Navy during the Second World War and then began studying acting after his discharge.
He began his acting career with the Peninsula Players with whom he appeared with in local plays throughout the late 1950s. His professional career began in the 1960s. He appeared in bit parts in popular TV shows including such as Dennis The Menace, The Donna Reed Show, and The Red Skelton Hour. He also appeared in feature films such as Gypsy, Lord Love a Duck, and Don’t Just Stand There!
But his big break came when he was cast as Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. This was the film that made him a star and he collaborated with Mel Brooks again in High Anxiety and History of the World Part I.
His other notable film roles include:
- Huckleberry Finn
- Herbie Goes Bananas
- Curse of the Pink Panther
- Alice in Wonderland
- The Flintstones
- Radioland Murders
- Jingle All the Way and
- The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
He also had occasional roles in popular TV shows and TV movies including The Munsters, The Flintstones (in which he voiced ‘The Great Gazoo’), The Muppet Show, The Tim Conway Show, The Invisible Woman, Garfield and Friends, Hey Arnold! and The Wild Thornberrys. Harvey also briefly starred in his own show – The Harvey Korman Show.
He died due to complications that arose from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm on May 29, 2008. Harvey was 81 years old and one of the Blazing Saddles Cast Member Died .
And coming to a close…we’re just about to reveal the mystery person who helped Mel Brooks write Blazing Saddles and almost starred in the film! But first…
Madeline Kahn was born on September 29, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts. She studied drama and music at Hofstra University – and would later become known for her versatile acting and singing skills.
She began her show business career appearing in plays. Her notable plays in the 1960s were Kiss Me Kate, How Now Dow Jones, Promises- Promises,and Promenade. Madeline first major film role was in the Peter Bogdonavich film What’s Up Doc?
Her big break was when she was cast as Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles. This was the film that made her a big star. She then became a staple of Mel Brooks’ films and appeared in his films High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, and History of the World Part I.
Her notable film roles other than her work with Mel Brooks include The Muppet Movie, Simon, Yellowbeard, City Heat, Clue, Betsy’s Wedding, Mixed Nuts, Nixon, A Bug’s Life, and Judy Berlin.
She sadly died due to complications from ovarian cancer on December 3, 1999, at the age of 57.
Now, what about the mysterious writer who was almost cast in Blazing Saddles?
Mel Brooks wrote this great film with a team of other accomplished screenwriters. One of them…was comedian and actor Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor was at the height of his career in the 1970s and was a force to be reckoned with. Without a doubt, some of the funniest lines and scenarios in Blazing Saddles are a result of his contribution to the script.
He was the original choice to play Sheriff Bart. However, the studio refused to finance the film if Richard Pryor was cast – as they felt his drug use would prove him to be unstable on set. Nevertheless, his contribution is still remembered. And yes, if you guessed it, some of Gene Wilder’s best films were his collaborations with Richard Pryor!
Now, let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Blazing Saddles?
Here’s what we’d like to know from you:
Do you think that the film still holds up today? Or do you think the Mel Brooks’ style of humor isn’t as popular for today’s audiences?
We look forward to reading your comments!
If you liked this story, hit the ‘like’ button and be sure to Subscribe to FactsVerse for more great stories! Hit the bell icon to receive regular notifications!
And if you haven’t already – be sure to click ‘Join’ to become a FactsVerse member and get access to our mature content.
We’ll see you in the next video!