Fred Willard, an actor whose career was dotted with innumerable indelible cameos playing genial buffoons in unfortunate roles of authority, has died aged 86. The news was first broken by Jamie Lee Curtis, the wife of Christopher Guest, in whose mockumentaries – including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind – Willard won a new army of fans.
“How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts,” Curtis tweeted. “He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.” Willard’s wife of 40 years, Mary, died in 2018. The death was confirmed by Willard’s representative, Glenn Schwartz, who added that it was from natural causes. Said Willard’s daughter, Hope Mulbarger, in a statement
“My father passed away very peacefully last night at the fantastic age of 86 years old. He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever.
Willard, who was born in 1933, made his big-screen debut in a little-seen 1967 film Teenage Mother, but his career remained in abeyance for a decade until Mary Hartman spinoff Fernwood 2 Night in 1977; he made his first appearance on Saturday Night Live the following year. In 1984, he began his collaboration with Guest when they shared the screen in Rob Reiner’s seminal mockumentary This is Spinal Tap. Willard’s Air Force lieutenant gives the Spinal Tap, including Guest’s Nigel Tufnel, a tour of the military base.
Guest went on to cast Willard in five more films he directed in the same vein: Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), For Your Consideration (2006) and 2016’s Mascots. Best in Show, about a dog pageant, became the actor’s most celebrated role: he played an ill-briefed and often highly inappropriate TV commentator for the titular dog pageant. His character’s tin-eared attempts at humour led to some of the film’s funniest moments.
Steve Carell, who starred alongside Willard in both Anchorman films – in which he played the clueless and overwhelmed news station boss, remembered Willard as “the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with. He was a sweet, wonderful man. Anchorman co-star Christina Applegate tweeted that she was “gutted” over the news. “His immense talent and kindness will never be forgotten. We love you Fred Willard. Thank you for the decades of laughter.
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