By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated March 28, 2002 01:00 PM

Proving the old show-biz adage that celebrities expire in threes, Oscar-winning filmmaker Billy Wilder, 95, whose sardonic screen classics include “The Lost Weekend,” “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Stalag 17,” “Sabrina,” The Seven-Year Itch” “The Apartment” — and the movie that the American Film Institute named the funniest comedy ever made, “Some Like It Hot” — died of pneumonia in his Los Angeles home Wednesday night, reports the Associated Press. His wife of 53 years, Audrey, was at his side, and his death follows this week’s loss of Dudley Moore and Milton Berle. “Old directors never die,” Wilder, whose caustic zingers (apocryphal or not) were legendary, once told “They just do a slow fade out.” Born Samuel Wilder on June 22, 1906, near Vienna, the great cynic of the cinema grew up adoring American films. He began his film career in Berlin after working as a journalist (his claim to fame as a young reporter: interviewing Sigmund Freud). In 1934, Wilder fled the Nazis, and despite his knowing only 100 words of English, he moved to Hollywood — though when his first visa expired, he hid out in Mexico. (His time there later inspired his classic script for 1941’s “Hold Back the Dawn,” in which Charles Boyer longs to cross the American border). As Wilder, whose mother and stepfather were killed by the Nazis, told the Academy Awards audience in 1988 when he accepted a special Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, an immigration official decided Wilder’s fate: whether he should be shipped back to Nazi Germany or permitted entry into the U.S. “What do you do?” the official asked. “I write movies,” replied Wilder. After a brief but seemingly eternal pause, the official approved Wilder’s U.S. visa and said, “Well, write some good ones.” That he did.