Fred Willard’s wife was by his side throughout his career, offering support as he rose up from the world of improv comedy to notch a career in television and movies and even helping him land a few of his iconic roles.
Now, 71-year-old Mary Willard has died, passing away suddenly this week. Radar Online reported on her passing, which was first related through Los Angeles entertainment reporter George Pennacchio on Facebook.
“Today, I learned my friend, Mary Willard, died unexpectedly last night at the age of 71. She was the loving wife of comedian Fred Willard but Mary was also a firecracker, full of love and laughs. She was kind, generous and supportive of her friends and her causes. May she Rest In Peace.”
Pennacchio was a family friend as well, posting pictures from Mary’s 70th birthday party last March. It was a costume party where guests came as their favorite television character, with Fred dressing as Thurston Howell III. As the party showed, Mary was close with a number of others from Hollywood.
The circumstances of Mary Willard’s passing were not immediately known, including exactly when or where she passed away. Some who knew Mary have shared condolences on social media, but at press time only Radar Online had reported on her passing.
The 78-year-old actor appeared often with his wife at Hollywood events and she popped in for many of his interviews as well. The couple was married for 50 years, with Mary supporting Fred as he rose up from a cast member on the famed Second City improv troupe in Chicago to forge a career in television and movies.
Mary Willard even helped her husband land some roles. As Fred said in a 2011 interview with Vulture, it was his wife’s devout churchgoing habit that helped him land one of the iconic dramatic roles of his career in Salem’s Lot.
“And one day my wife was on the set visiting me, and one of the producers was talking to me and said, ‘You know how we thought of you for this movie?’ And I said no. And he said, ‘You were in St. Martins one morning.’ And I didn’t know what St. Martins was. And it’s a Catholic church. Now, my wife is Catholic, and I guess the producer is Catholic. He said, you were sitting in the congregation, and the sun came through the window and it shined down on you and we said, ‘That’s Fred Willard! We should use him in our movie.’ And I said to my wife, ‘My God, I should have been going to synagogues for years!’ “
Many friends in Hollywood have reached out to Fred Willard and shared their memories of Mary after her death, including author and actress Vicki Abelson who remembered one of her last interactions with Mary in a heartfelt Facebook message.