One of the greatest television and film comedians of all time, Fred Willard, passed away at the age of 86 on Friday, May 15. From his early days on shows like Mary Hartman to hit films like Best in Show and Anchorman, Willard enjoyed a career that will be remembered forever.
Long Road To Success
Born in Ohio in 1933, Willard began acting in off-Broadway productions in the late ’50s. By 1967 he snagged his first film role in the exploitation film Teenage Mother. From there, the rest was history. He quickly joined the cast of the hit shows Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and its spinoff Fernwood 2 Night, cementing his status as a household name.
Willard enjoyed another round of massive success in the mid-’80s, he starred in director Christopher Guest’s first mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap. From there, he earned improv-heavy roles in many of Guest’s films, including hits like Best in Show, For Your Consideration, and A Mighty Wind. “Whenever Fred was improvising on set, we’d crowd around the monitors to watch and squeeze each other to hold in our laughter. Acting with someone so brilliantly funny was exhilarating, and we all revered and loved him,” said his request Guest co-star, Parker Posey.
Fred Willard, Man Of Many Talents
Unlike other stars from the ’50s and ’60s, Willard’s popularity and talents never diminished. He even became a favorite of millennials and Gen-Z through films like Anchorman and the series Modern Family. “Fred Willard was the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with. He was a sweet, wonderful man,” his co-star from Anchorman, Steve Carell, remarked on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Willard did far more work offset than he ever did. A frequent fundraiser, the actor was a man of his word, often donating just as much as he raised. “Fred donated a great deal of his time to charitable endeavors,” his representative said after Willard’s passing. “For his work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, City of Hope, and Actors and Others for Animals, he received a commendation from the City of Los Angeles. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also praised him for ‘outstanding humanitarian and philanthropic work.’”
Of course, as you might imagine, after Willard’s passing, plenty of friends and co-stars released caring statements…
Jamie Lee Curtis, the wife of Christopher Guest, released one of the first statements in response to Willard’s passing. “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts,” she tweeted. “He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs, Mr. Willard.” Meanwhile, his daughter wrote: “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.”
“A four-time Emmy nominee radiated a unique charm that established him as one of our generation’s most gifted comic actors,” Willard’s rep wrote. “A master of sketch comedy, Fred was most heralded for his quick wit and improvisational expertise, which he demonstrated in hundreds of appearances on stage, on the big screen, and a wide range of television shows.”
Willard’s final performance will come in the upcoming Netflix sitcom, Space Force. Interestingly, Willard started in a 1978 film with the same title, though the series has no relation. We all look forward to seeing the actor’s fantastic final performance in Space Force. Rest in peace, Fred Willard.