This year marks the 50th anniversary of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The film adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic follows five children on their wild ride through a magical world of confections. Holding the keys to the kingdom is the eccentric Willy Wonka, whose goal is to find a successor for his empire.
Those who grew up loving the film might wonder where its actors are today. Get an update on the original Willy Wonka cast members who brought the beloved children’s novel to life.
Peter Ostrum – Charlie Bucket
Peter Ostrum scored the role of a lifetime when he was cast as Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It’s no surprise that after the film’s release, the child actor was offered a three-picture deal. But to the surprise of many, he rejected the contract and slipped back into a normal existence.
Ostrum went on to earn a doctorate from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. He is currently a partner at Countryside Veterinary Clinic in upstate New York, where he specializes in dairy production medicine. In a 2019 interview at a Pinball expo, he seems happy to have chosen farm life over film sets.
“When people watch this film they always say, ‘Peter Ostrum was never in any other film… wonder what happened to him?'” he said. “I want people to remember as a 12-year-old old kid, [I] had a great role, but then [I] went on to do other things in a totally different profession as a veterinarian, and made a great contribution in that area.
“I have two kids who are extremely important to me,” he continues. “I’d like them to think I was a really great father, and that at the end of the day I was a good person.”
Julie Dawn Cole – Veruca Salt
English actress Julie Dawn Cole played the part of spoiled brat Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka. It was her first role ever, but she went on to have a busy film and television career. According to IMDb, she worked well into recent years—she was last seen on the BBC medical drama series Casualty in 2013.
“Life now is very different,” Cole told Celebrity Parent in the early 2010s. “I was studying for six years and made this complete change. I decided that I didn’t want to act anymore, so today, I am a psychotherapist. I wasn’t able to go to University when I was 17, because I had to work to make money. I studied, got my degree, and have been working at a hospice for the last three years. My role is to work with families where the parent is suffering from a life-limiting illness. It is childhood bereavement.”
Paris Themmen – Mike Teavee
Boston-born Paris Themmen was 12-years-old when he introduced himself to the world as the pint-sized, cowboy-clad troublemaker Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka.
Themmen acted for a few more years, appearing on Broadway in The Rothschilds, before calling it quits. According to IMDb, he went on to graduate from New York University before pursuing careers in real estate, finance, and commercial casting.
Then, in 2018, observant Jeopardy! fans noticed that Themmen was a contestant. “Is nobody realizing that Paris on Jeopardy right now, is Mike TV from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?….Like legit it’s the actor,” one person tweeted.
Themmen, who earned second place with $6,800 in winnings, never mentioned his acting past to viewers. Instead, he identified himself as an entrepreneur and avid backpacker. The omission amused people on social media.
Denise Nickerson – Violet Beauregarde
Denise Nickerson was already an experienced actor when she landed the role of Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka. Before playing a gum-chewing brat-turned-bloated blueberry, she starred in the Emmy-nominated soap opera Dark Shadows.
Nickerson quit acting in 1978, but she carried the memories of those two major roles for the rest of her life. She often kept in touch with fans through nostalgia conventions and cast reunions. In the meantime, she switched careers and worked in nursing.
Sadly, in 2018, Nickerson suffered a severe stroke. The following year, she died of complications related to a seizure and pneumonia. Her son announced the news of her passing on Facebook and set up a Go Fund Me to cover the cost of death expenses.
Michael Bollner – Augustus Gloop
Who could forget greedy Augustus Gloop, flailing in Wonka’s river of chocolate before being shot off in a chute to the Fudge Room? German actor Michael Bollner portrayed the gluttonous little boy, but it was the first and last time we would see him on screen.
It turns out his father put the kibosh on his son’s budding acting career. Bollner’s dad wanted him to concentrate on his education, so he did just that. Today he works as a tax attorney in Munich.
Bollner also appears at fan conventions in the U.S. Upon hearing about Gene Wilder’s death, he said, “I regret not speaking to [Wilder] again in the years after the film when my English had improved.”
Rusty Goffe, Albert Wilkinson, and Malcolm Dixon – Oompa Loompas
The Oompa Loompas may have all looked the same in the film, but in real life, each took a very different direction.
From 1996 to 1999, English actor Rusty Goffe (featured above) worked as a weatherman for UK channel Live TV. He had an unusual shtick, bouncing on a trampoline as he delivered the forecast. But he also continued acting, and in 2011, he appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
83-year-old Albert Wilkinson also went on to have a long career. Among his film credits are Return of the Jedi (he played an Ewok) and David Bowie’s Labyrinth.
“It was hard work, but it’s an iconic film now,” he said about Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. “And Gene Wilder was a good friend, a lovely man.”
In April 2020, English actor Malcolm Dixon died at age 66. Like Wilkinson, he appeared in Labyrinth and Return of the Jedi. He also had a part in the 1981 film Time Bandits, starring Sean Connery and John Cleese.
Out of 10 Oompa Loompas, only two still survive. In 2005, Goffe lamented in The Guardian that people of his stature have lost current acting opportunities to CGI and special effects.
Gene Wilder – Willy Wonka
Gene Wilder was by far the most accomplished actor in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Prior to the film, he received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Producers; after the film, he received another nomination in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay for Young Frankenstein. A filmography packed with classic comedies like Blazing Saddles and See No Evil, Hear No Evil cemented his legacy as a talented funnyman.
His final on-screen role was in an episode of Will & Grace; it earned him the 2003 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
In 2016, Wilder died due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. His nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, provided a statement about the passing:
“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him ‘there’s Willy Wonka,’ would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”