When asked what it meant to be creative, Gene Wilder gave an answer for the ages

When actor Gene Wilder was a little boy, his mother had a heart attack, and in a story that Wilder told many times over the years, her attending physician gave him some advice that stuck with him into his later years.

“Don’t get into an argument with her, because you might kill her,” the doctor told Wilder.

On Monday, Wilder, born Jerome Silberman, passed away at his home in Connecticut.

In 1999, Wilder found himself at a Connecticut Forum titled “The Wonders of Creativity.” Gene recounted the story of the doctor’s advice to an adoring crowd and explained that the doctor said it was good to make her laugh.

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“I had never consciously tried to make anyone laugh in my life,” Wilder said.

But according to Wilder, he knew he may have a knack for comedy the first time his mother “peed her pants.”

Wilder recounted the tale with the faintest smile, and then gave a firm answer to the question of the evening, “How does one define creativity?”

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“It was the beginning of creativity for me,” Wilder said of the moment with his mother.

Another story that Wilder recalled was as a little boy when a teacher told him that his paintings weren’t good enough to be put on a classroom wall. This critique from a grade school teacher stuck with Wilder for many, many years, until he decided to do something about it.

Decades later, Wilder began painting semi-professionally and proved that even if someone tells you cannot do something, that doesn’t mean you should ever stop trying.

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“You think this is a joke. It’s not,” Wilder told the crowd of his reason to paint, to great applause.

Several years later, Wilder would tell Larry King why he preferred painting to show business.

“I love painting. I like the show, but I don’t like the business. And when I go to a restaurant and they’re talking 3.6, 9.8 and how many — what the budget and the — everyone is a writer or a director or an actor or a producer and — it just make me nervous.”