Following the passing of Jerry Stiller this past week, the world has unfortunately lost another brilliant comedic talent.
Fred Willard, a longtime comedy star with entertainment roots going all the way back to 1960 and best known for his roles in Christopher Guest mockumentary movies such as A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, and For Your Consideration, has passed away at 86 years old.
Jamie Lee Curtis, who is married to director Christopher Guest, was first to announce news of Fred Willard dead:
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
Curis and Guest must have been among the first to learn of his passing, because Rolling Stone followed up to confirm with Fred Willard’s representative that the actor had indeed passed away of natural causes, less than two years after his wife Mary died.
After being born and raised in Ohio, Fred Willard graduated from the Kentucky Military Institute and served in the US Army in Germany before he got his start in comedy with fellow comedian Vic Grecco. The two performed as the aptly named duo Willard & Grecco in New York and found a good amount of success touring the country. They even made appearances on The Dean Martin Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Tonight Show. But the duo disbanded in 1968.
Fred Willard found comedy success again with another comedy group after performing at Second City in Chicago. Along with with George Memmoli, Michael Mislove, Bill Saluga, and Patti Deutsch, Willard founded the Ace Trucking Company, a sketch and improvisational comedy troupe that performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over 50 times, as well as The Ed Sullivan Show, This Is Tom Jones, and The Mike Douglas Show.
Throughout his career, which spans over 60 years, Willard appeared in shows such as Get Smart, The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, Sirota’s Court, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, The Golden Girls, Married…with Children, The Ben Stiller Show, Friends, Family Matters, Roseanne, Step by Step, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Mad About You, Ally McBeal, Family Guy, That 70s Show, MadTV, Everybody Loves Raymond, King of the Hill, Pushing Daisies, Community, Comedy Bang! Bang!, New Girl, Modern Family, and countless more.
On film, Willard also enjoyed quite a career, not only did he appear in Christopher Guest’s mockumentary movies, but he also had supporting roles in Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), Roxanne, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Wedding Planner, American Wedding, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Monster House, WALL-E, where he played Pixar’s first live-action character, and of course, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and the sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
Willard seemed to be in good health in his 80s, and he even has a recurring role in Netflix’s upcoming comedy series Space Force, where he’ll be playing Steve Carell’s father. Funnily enough, Willard previously starred in a failed TV movie called Space Force, which became the premise of a sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live after Donald Trump announced the creation of a real Space Force sanctioned by the American government. Since then, Willard made frequent appearances as various misguided characters inspired by the week’s headlines.
Throughout his career in film and television, Willard was often called upon to play bumbling television commentators, military officers, and wacky fathers and grandfathers. A master of improv comedy, he was always a fun presence in whatever project he was working on. This is truly a loss to the entertainment world, and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family during this time. Rest in peace.
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