Beloved comedy legend Fred Willard has passed away. A rep for the actor has confirmed that he died from natural causes at the age of 86. A master of the mockumentary – Willard starred in a series of Christopher Guest-directed films like Best In Show, For Your Consideration, Waiting For Guffman, and A Mighty Wind – he will forever be remembered for his brand of comic cluelessness.
Willard’s death comes two years after his wife Mary, who died at the age of 71. The couple married in 1968 and were the parents of one daughter, Hope Mulbarger.
RIP, Fred. You were always my comic hero. I was thrilled to work with you in Roxanne. https://t.co/IjSxCMESzt
— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) May 16, 2020
“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,” Mulbarger told People magazine. “We loved him so very much!”
The four-time Emmy nominee was born in Ohio on September 18, 1933, and he began his comedy career in the 1950s. Willard worked for Second City in 1965, was a founding member of the sketch and improv group Ace Trucking Company, and also part of the comedy duo Willard & Grecco, with Vic Grecco.
Willard’s big break came in 1977 when he joined the cast of the parody talk show Fernwood 2 Night, and he later became a staple in Guest-directed films in the 1990s and 2000s.
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
“That started to change everything,” Willard told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. “I was thrilled to be working with people I worked with — Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy — I was such a fan of theirs, and Christopher Guest. I’d see him on Saturday Night Live, and I’d met him socially a few times, but it was just so much fun. It was like a party every day, or a picnic, doing those scenes. You never think it’s going to be seen in a theater audience. You were just doing it to try and get this story told, get in a joke or two, and when it came out, it did quite well.”
Willard also had a knack for bringing scene-stealing performances in supporting roles in films like This Is Spinal Tap, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
He also had a successful career on television that led to Emmy nominations in shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family.
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.
— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) May 16, 2020
“A fond farewell to Mr. Fred Willard,” wrote actress Jamie Lee Curtis (Guest’s wife). “How lucky we all are that we got to witness his great gifts. Thanks for the deep belly laughs. You are now with Mary. Home safe.”
“Rest In Peace sweet @Fred_Willard,” wrote Fred Willard’s Modern Family co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson. “You will always be a true original and I am so honored that our lives intersected. No one will ever come close to replacing your genius.”