Fred Willard, a beloved comedic actor best known for his appearances in numerous Christopher Guest films such as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, died on May 15, 2020. He was 86.
The sad news was confirmed by the actor’s only child, daughter Hope Willard. She tweeted, “It is with a heavy heart that I share the news my father passed away very peacefully last night at the fantastic age of 86 years old. He kept moving, working, and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever.”
Fred Willard's work in Christopher Guest movies alone is worth some kind of sainthood. pic.twitter.com/aR3shoH7H9
— Matt Jacobs (@tarantallegra) May 16, 2020
Willard’s representative Glenn Schwartz told Rolling Stone that his cause of death was natural causes. Willard’s wife of over 50 years, Mary Willard, died in 2018 at age 71.
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who co-starred with Willard in numerous of Guest’s films tweeted out her condolences. She wrote, “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts. He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.”
How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts. He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard. Best in Show (7/11) Movie CLIP – Judging the Hounds (2000) HD https://t.co/wPrbk9VjWI via @YouTube
— Jamie Lee Curtis (@jamieleecurtis) May 16, 2020
The four-time Primetime Emmy Award nominee, who nabbed a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Guest Performance on The Bold and the Beautiful in 2015, starred on numerous hit TV series throughout his career such as Everybody Loves Raymond, Mad About You, Roseanne, and Modern Family. His film resume includes starring roles in the Anchorman movies, the voice of Shelby Forthright in WALL-E, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
There Was Speculation Concerning Willard’s Health After His ‘Modern Family Character Died
On Modern Family, Willard played the role of Frank Dunphy, the father of lead character Phil Dunphy, played by actor Ty Burrell. Willard appeared in 14 episodes between 2009 and 2019, and when his fictional character passed away on the long-running FOX series, his real-life frail appearance caused fans to worry.
Sources told Radar Online in 2019 that Willard was never the same after his wife died. “Mary was Fred’s everything,” a friend of Willar told the outlet. “He’s been a broken man since her death. He told friends, ‘I don’t know how I can go on without her.’
Another source said, “He was once one of the top comic actors in the business. But his illness and his grief have slowed him down considerably.”
Tributes to Willard & His Remarkable Career Were Shared on Twitter
Willard, who was born on September 18, 1933, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, was a master of sketch comedy. Nominated for an Emmy Award 15 times throughout his career, Willard appeared on what seems to be every popular TV series over that past six decades. He will also appear in Steve Carell’s newest comedy show, Space Force, which premieres on Netflix on May 29.
On Twitter, tributes were shared from his former co-stars, entertainment media critics, and fans. Actor Michael McKean, who starred alongside Willard in This Is Spinal Tap tweeted, “I’m at a loss for words, a state Fred Willard never found himself in. My friend for 40+ years, a great comic actor who had no competition because there was only one of him. We were all so lucky. Goodbye, Fred.”
Screenwriter Bess Kalb tweeted, “The past few years working with Fred Willard was the kind of privilege that made me second-guess reality. He was so kind, so game, and so room-destroyingly funny until the end. Here’s a thread of him in his 80s being a master of his craft, kablaming you with joy. Long live Fred.”
It was a privilege to have the great Fred Willard know my name. Rest In Peace Fred. You were funny in your bones. pic.twitter.com/PlFTCHFZCK
— Eric Stonestreet (@ericstonestreet) May 16, 2020
No one has ever been funny quite the way Fred Willard was funny. Rest in peace, sir… thanks for the decades of laughs. pic.twitter.com/2LAAtw0m2p
— Ande Parks (@andeparks) May 16, 2020
Nobody funnier than #FredWillard. And when he happened to be in an audience, nobody laughed harder. Just saw him before quarantine & already miss him. He was my biggest fan and I am his. Fred & Mary were so kind to me. Sending a big virtual hug to his family, friends and fans pic.twitter.com/XAIsVzuwEs
— Jeff Ross (@realjeffreyross) May 16, 2020
— Phil Rosenthal (@PhilRosenthal) May 16, 2020
My heart is heavy at the news of #FredWillard’s passing. What a kind man and what a glorious talent. There was no one funnier on earth. My family was lucky to be welcomed into his orbit. He and his wife Mary were superb hosts—generous to a fault. Can’t believe they’re both gone. pic.twitter.com/C0pGXgX4ms
— Leonard Maltin (@leonardmaltin) May 16, 2020