Fred Willard is dead. The veteran actor passed away of natural causes, according to Rolling Stone.
The news was confirmed by Willard’s representative, Glenn Schwarz, as well as by ABC7 entertainment reporter George Pennacchio via Twitter. Willard was predeceased by his wife of 50 years, playwright Mary Willard, and is survived by his daughter, Hope.
Willard passed away in his sleep, Pennacchio reported. His exact cause of death was not yet reported.
Fred Willard’s Acting & Comedy Careers Spanned 50 Years
Willard was known for his prolific work in comedy, first making his debut on television comedies in the 1960s and continuing work up until his death.
Willard was famous for his roles in ensemble mockumentary comedies from director Christopher Guest, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, For Your Consideration, and A Mighty Wind. The actor and comedian was involved in projects until his passing, including a role as Frank Dunphy on the recently concluded television comedy, Modern Family.
He also had a role on the Space Force, the upcoming Netflix series that reunites The Office creator Greg Daniels with actor Steve Carrell. Willard had a role as Carrell’s father.
“He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end,” Fred’s daughter, Hope Willard, tweeted on Saturday. “We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever.”
#BREAKINGNEWS – Comedian Fred Willard died in his sleep last night at 86.
The sketch comedy master spent 50+ years in show biz.
Among his many movie credits: “Best In Show,” “Anchorman” & “WALL-E.”
On TV, “Fernwood Tonight,” “Modern Family” & “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
May he R.I.P. pic.twitter.com/kInSrM8llY
— George Pennacchio (@abc7george) May 16, 2020
While the bulk of Willard’s work was in comedy, Rolling Stone noted that he had an ability to move deftly into any genre, with notable work on sitcoms, voice-over work in animated projects, and even offbeat comedies, including Tim & Eric, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and I Think You Should Leave.
As the report noted, he also appeared on reality television shows including The Bachelor franchise and even had an Emmy-nominated role on the soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful.
Fred Willard’s Wife Passed Away In 2018
Fred Willard mourned the loss of his wife, 71-year-old Mary Willard, in 2018.
Radar Online reported on her sudden passing, which was also relayed through Pennacchio on Facebook as he shared pictures of Mary’s 70th birthday party.
Fred and Mary had a close relationship, and Fred said in a 2011 interview with Vulture that his wife helped him to land one of the most iconic dramatic roles of his career in Salem’s Lot. Willard said that one of the producers ran him onto the set of another project, noting that he had seen Fred at St. Martin’s — which Fred didn’t realize at first was the Catholic Church he attended with his wife.
“Now, my wife is Catholic, and I guess the producer is Catholic,” Fred shared. “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!’ ”
Willard Remembered By Friends, Co-Stars
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
A number of friends and fellow actors have reached out to mourn Willard’s passing and remember his impact on the world of comedy over the course of a career that stretched more than five decades.
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. https://t.co/Ax8dA61rlh
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) May 16, 2020
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
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
Many remembered Willard as being just as kind off-screen as he was talented on it.