Fred Willard, a master deadpan comic actor who peppered TV shows and movies for the last 54 years and enjoyed a late-career blossoming, "passed away very peacefully last night at the fantastic age of 86 years old " per his daughter Hope Mulbarger's statement. A longtime professional guest star with the occasional film part (he has 311 credits listed under "Actor" on IMDb), Willard enjoyed a mockumentary-fueled renaissance in his '60s that turned him into a grandfatherly comic presence to a whole new generation of fans which, in turn, continued to get him work. He most recent role was as Frank Dunphy on ABC's comic smash "Modern Family" where he earned an Emmy nom and Willard will appear posthumously on the Steve Carell series "Space Force" on Netflix May 29th.
I don't remember exactly where I saw him first (it was either SILVER STREAK or "Laverne and Shirley") but Willard was one of those funny men I don't ever remember not being aware of. He was a reliable comic presence whenever he appeared. But it was the mockumentary, a whole new genre of film that satirized one of the oldest genres, where Willard truly shined. He had a brief but memorable role in THIS IS SPINAL TAP that gave us just a peek of what would come later.
Willard was never better than dog show announcer Buck Laughlin in director Christopher Guest's brilliant BEST IN SHOW (see first clip). A MIGHTY WIND and FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, his next two collabs with Guest, followed three years apart but in between that pair, he appeared in the comedy cult classics HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE and ANCHORMAN.
“A four-time Emmy nominee radiated a unique charm that established him as one of our generation’s most gifted comic actors, master of sketch comedy, Fred was most heralded for his quick wit and improvisational expertise, which he demonstrated in hundreds of appearances on stage, on the big screen, and on a wide range of television shows," Willard’s rep Glenn Schwartz wrote in a tribute.
I know death often brings accolades not heard in life. But Fred Willard just seemed like a genuinely lovely guy.
Making people laugh and well-loved. Hell of a combo. My sympathies to his family and friends.