The Only Major Actors Still Alive From Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory 

As fans of Mel Stuart's 1971 film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" can likely tell you, author Roald Dahl hated the film. His original 1964 novel, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," was, he felt, not a whimsical, sentimental story, but a Dickensian odyssey into a surreal landscape. Additionally, Dahl hated the casting of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, preferring British actor Spike Milligan. Too much was changed from his original text. Why adapt a book to screen, Dahl felt, if you're going to alter everything? 

Despite the author's objections, Stuart's film became deeply beloved among the children who saw it in the '70s and '80s, and many grew up holding the film — which has plenty of Dahl-like bitterness and horror regardless — very close to their hearts. "Willy Wonka" eventually became part of the ever-churning nostalgia machine, and decades after its release, aging Gen-Xers were suddenly able to purchase piles and piles of tie-in merch. Heck, there are slot machines in Las Vegas themed after "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." It's surreal to think that a children's movie is being used as a gambling lure. 

The film, for those who might require a reminder, is about a sweepstakes. The reclusive and secretive Willy Wonka, a renowned chocolatier, has hidden several golden tickets in his chocolate products. Children who find the tickets will be granted a tour of the Wonka factory. The winners are mostly selfish, horrible children. The protagonist — the impoverished Charlie Bucket — is the only one with a gentle heart.

Gene Wilder passed away in 2016 at the age of 83, but "Willy Wonka" starred numerous child actors who are still active performers to this day. 

Peter Ostrum (Charlie)

The lead actor of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," Peter Ostrum, was only 12 when he was cast in the role of Charlie Bucket. When he was in the sixth grade, Ostrum was bitten by the acting bug, and was already appearing on stage in various school productions. "Willy Wonka" was his big break. Ostrum has been interviewed several times about his experience working on the hit film, and he has shared a story about how Paramount offered him a three-picture deal when shooting wrapped. Ostrum's dialect coach, a man named Frawley Becker, encouraged Ostrum not to take the deal, as contracts tend to lock actors into roles they don't want to play. 

Ostrum went back to school after "Willy Wonka," and continued to audition for plays, but rarely got roles. By the time he was 17, he had pretty much admitted he didn't want to act anymore. It was around that time that he first started interacting with horses. Ostrum eventually began studying veterinary medicine, receiving a doctorate in 1984. His education was more important to him than Hollywood. 

Dr. Ostrum retired in 2023 at the age of 65. He's living comfortably with his family in New York.

Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt)

One of the more notable characters from "Willy Wonka" was Veruca Salt, the rich spoiled brat character who sings a song about wanting the whole world and wanting it now. Incidentally, a 1990s alternarock back from Chicago named itself after the character. Veruca Salt was played by actress Julie Dawn Cole who did stay in the acting game, and who continued to perform through the mid-2000s. 

Cole, too, was only 12 when she was cast in "Willy Wonka," and has also spoken extensively about her experience in the film. According to her IMDb profile, Cole admitted to having a crush on Peter Ostrum, as did her co-star, the late Denise Nickerson who played Violet Beauregard. Evidently, she and Nickerson agreed to take turns spending time with Ostrum so they could both hone their flirting skills, a very diplomatic arrangement for 12-year-olds. 

After "Willy Wonka," Cole immediately landed another job, appearing on the British sitcom "...And Mother Makes Three." She continued to regularly appear on British television as she grew up. She had a regular role in the 1975 medical drama "Angels," and was in 14 episodes of the soap opera "Emmerdale" in 2006. She landed guest spots in multiple notable TV programs besides. In 2016, Cole wrote the memoir "I Want It Now!" talking all about her memories of working on "Willy Wonka" as a child. 

Paris Themmen (Mike Teevee)

Mike Teevee, the TV addict, is something of a dated character, as the old parents' chestnut that "TV will rot your brain" has had to evolve with technology. In Tim Burton's 2005 version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Mike Teevee was updated to be a video game addict. No doubt a further update would see Mike Teevee as a TikTok addict. Mike Teevee was played by actor Paris Themmen who eventually went on to study theater. His acting gigs only came occasionally. 

Like Peter Ostrum, Themmen didn't want to stay in the acting game after "Willy Wonka," saying on his website that he just wanted to be a kid. He would later get back into acting in college, eventually earning a BFA in theater. After that, Themmen became a world traveler, enriching himself by traversing this big, great planet of ours. At the time of his website authorship, Themmen said he had backpacked across 40 countries on six continents. One can only imagine that number has increased since. He also ran down the various jobs he held in the years since "Willy Wonka," including Imagineering at Disney, working retail, and even working in film production. He still appears at conventions to sign autographs. 

In terms of screen credits, Themmen dubbed multiple voices for the "Macross Plus" anime, and had a bit part in a sixth-season episode of "Star Trek: Voyager." 

Themmen, it seems, has lived a large, full life. 

Michael Böllner (Augustus Gloop)

"Fat" jokes have fallen sharply out of favor in recent years, but there was an unfortunate time when making fun of fat people was de rigueur in comedies and children's movies. The character of Augustus Gloop was depicted as an unapologetic glutton whose unguarded appetite for chocolate got him in trouble while on Willy Wonka's tour. Dahl wrote the character as a warning against gluttony, and Stuart pretty much kept the criticism intact. While modern audiences will cringe at the fatphobia, actor Michael Böllner feels that such light ribbing is appropriate. He was interviewed by the Daily Mail in 2023 over potential changes to Dahl's original text to make it more politically correct, and Böllner bristled at the thought. 

"It is really fine," he said. "So I don't have feeling like it was cruel or politically incorrect or anything. [...] Performing on the set never made me sad or anything like this, really on the contrary." The image of fatphobia may be harmful in the long run, but Böllner felt no mockery on set.

According to his IMDb profile, Böllner, a German actor, didn't have a dressing room for "Willy Wonka," but lived nearby so just went home to change costumes. German was his first language, and he required coaching to speak his English dialogue. He also says that he loved acting and wanted to continue, but his father forced him to give it up to work on his education. Böllner now lives in Munich and works as an accountant. 

Rusty Goffe (an Oompa Loompa)

The Oompa Loompas were also something of a problematic creation. While presented as unusual fantasy creatures — they have orange skin and green hair — Dahl was clearly deriving the Oompa Loompas from colonialist cliches about "exotic lands" and "Darkest Africa." Kids may not have picked up on Dahl's stringent colonialism when first reading the novel, but it's very clear to this day. 

In "Willy Wonka," the Oompa Loompas were all played by little-person actors, and several Oompa Loompas were featured prominently, singing their catchy songs of warning and dancing. One might recognize Rusty Goffe from his picture above. 

Like so many little-person actors of the time, Goffe appeared in multiple fantasy films, playing aliens and nonhuman characters, including multiple high-profile Hollywood films. Goffe played one of the Jawa's in "Star Wars," for instance. He appeared in Ron Howard's "Willow," and in various roles in five of the Harry Potter movies. He was a regular on the British comedy series "Stupid!" playing the character of Goober, so Goffe clearly had a talent for being funny. 

Fun trivia: Goffe appeared in the 1980 film "Flash Gordon," alongside another noted little-person actor Deep Roy. Roy played all of the Oompa Loompas in Tim Burton's 2005 remake.

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