Fred Willard, the iconic comic actor best known for his turns in the cult mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, has died at the age of 86. The news was first shared by Jamie Lee Curtis, wife of Christopher Guest, on Twitter. “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts. He is with his missed Mary now,” Curtis wrote, referring to his wife who passed in 2018. “Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.”
ABC7 entertainment news reporter George Pennacchio shared on his own Twitter account a statement from Willard’s daughter Hope Mulbarger, who said, “He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much. We will miss him forever.” Mulbarger’s mother and Willard’s wife of 40 years, Mary, died in 2018. No other details as to the cause of death are currently available.
Willard’s unique charm is perhaps best displayed in Guest’s 2000 film “Best in Show,” in which he stars as the emcee of the Mayflower Dog Show. He also brought his idiosyncratic comic gifts to Guest’s “A Mighty Wind,” “For Your Consideration,” “Waiting for Guffman,” and “Mascots.” Comedy fans were also charmed by his appearances in both “Anchorman” films.
Willard got his start on popular TV shows such as “Get Smart,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” and “Laverne & Shirley,” and in the late ’60s even had an uncredited role in Jacques Demy’s “Model Shop.” Though well-known in the film space, most of Willard’s accolades came care of his small screen work.
In 1986, he was nominated for the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host for his role as host of “What’s Hot, What’s Not.” The actor also received three Emmy nominations for his recurring role on the long-running TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond.” In 2010, he was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his appearances on “Modern Family.”
Willard continued to work in the days leading up to his death, and will next be seen in the Netflix comedy “Space Force,” which will debut at the end of the month on the streamer. The suitably comedic turn will mark his last onscreen role.
He is survived by Mulbarger and her son Freddie.