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Blazing Saddles blazed a trail in American comedy after its release in 1974. Director and star Mel Brooks continues to be a force in comedy 40 years later at age 87. In 2009, he received Kennedy Center Honors from President Obama for his life's work.

A rundown of the other main players in Blazing Saddles:

Cleavon Little: Little was primarily a Broadway actor before being plucked to star as Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles, a part for which Brooks says he was "perfect." The classically trained actor continued to appear onstage and in film and guest spots on television series. He won an Emmy Award in 1989 on television's Dear John. Little died of colon cancer in 1992 at age 53.

MORE: At 40, 'Blazing Saddles' is still reining Brooks comedy

Gene Wilder: Blazing Saddles was part of a continued collaboration with Brooks, which included 1974's Young Frankenstein and 1968's The Producers. He won an Emmy for playing Mr. Stein in the comedy series Will & Grace in 2003. Wilder, 80, is retired from acting but continues to write.

Madeline Kahn: Brooks calls Kahn's performance as a heavily accented dance-hall singer "a gift from God." She was nominated for a supporting-actress Oscar for the part. The two also collaborated on Young Frankenstein (1974) and History of the World, Part 1. Kahn died of ovarian cancer in 1999. "I miss her so much," Brooks says.

Harvey Korman: Korman is best remembered for his Emmy-winning role on The Carol Burnett Show, which ran from 1967 to 1978, and for his Saddles role as conniving Hedley Lamarr. He later appeared with Brooks in 1977's High Anxiety and as Count de Monet in History of the World, Part 1. When he died in 2008 at 81, Brooks said, "A world without Harvey Korman — it's a more serious world."

Alex Karras: The former Detroit Lions defensive lineman played the strong but dim Mongo in Blazing Saddles. He is also remembered for playing the screen father in the television series Webster. Karras died in 2012 at age 77.

Richard Pryor: One of the great comedy standouts of the 1970s, Pryor was key to Blazing Saddles' satirical and race-charged screenplay but never appeared in the film. He died of a heart attack in 2005 at 65 after a long bout with multiple sclerosis.

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