Fred Willard, the beloved comic and actor who kept Hollywood laughing with roles in This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, and Anchorman, has died at the age of 86.
Willard’s daughter, Hope, told The Hollywood Reporter that her father passed “very peacefully” from natural causes. “He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever,” Hope added.
A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Willard began pursuing comedy in the 1950s, following a brief tenure in the US Army. He was initially part of a comedy duo with Vic Grecco, performing in clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village. He later moved to Chicago and became a member of the city’s legendary comedy troupe, Second City, where he performed alongside future legends Robert Klein and David Steinberg.
Willard’s big break came in the late 1970’s when he was cast in the satirical late-night comedy Fernwood 2 Night. It parlayed into sitcom roles on NBC’s Real People and D.C. Follies, as well as his casting in Rob Reiner’s 1984 band mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, in which he played Air Force Lt. Bob Hookstratten.
His role in This Is Spinal Tap also began a long and fruitful relationship with actor/director Christopher Guest, who made Willard a frequent presence in many of his own satirical mockumentaries, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, and Mascots. In particular, Willard’s role as the announcer Buck Laughlin in Best in Show earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor from the National Society of Film Critics, while Waiting for Guffman led to a nomination for Funniest Actor from the Screen Actors Guild.
Despite his success in film, Willard maintained a steady stream of roles on television, including a reoccurring guest appearance on Rosanne as the romantic partner of Mull’s character Leon Carp; on Sister, Sister playing Tia and Tamera’s high school teacher Mr. Carl Mitushka; and on The Simpsons as travel agent Wally Kogen. He also made appearances on Family Guy, That 70’s Show, and King of the Hill.
Willard’s star continued to shine brightly throughout the 2000’s with noteworthy roles in Anchorman, playing KVWN news director Ed Harken; on Everybody Loves Raymond, as “Hank MacDougall”, for which he received three consecutive Emmy Award nominations; and in Pixar’s WALL-E, voicing Shelby Forthright, the CEO of the Buy ‘n’ Large Corporation. In 2011, he joined the cast of Modern Family as Frank Dunphy, the father of Ty Burrell’s Phil Dunphy, a role which earned Willard another Emmy nomination.
Willard’s final known role is in the forthcoming Netflix comedy Space Force alongside Steve Carell.
Revisit highlights from Willard’s career below.