Fred Willard, Acclaimed Comic Actor, Dead at 86

Willard may be best-known for his work in Christopher Guest's comedies

Los Angeles Premiere Of "For Your Consideration" - Arrivals
Actor Fred Willard attends the Los Angeles premiere of the Warner Independent Pictures' film "For Your Consideration" on November 13, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

On Friday, actor Fred Willard died at the age of 86. Rolling Stone reported the news today, and included confirmation from his representative that Willard died of natural causes. Willard’s career spanned several decades in film and television, and included numerous appearances in films directed by Christopher Guest. It is for those roles that Willard may be best-remembered, as they put his talent for understated comedy to brilliant use.

As Daniel Kreps writes at Rolling Stone, Willard’s career encompassed a vast array of projects, each of which he lent his considerable talents.

… Willard built a reputation where he could pop up in any setting — sitcoms (New Girl, Community), cartoons, late-night TV, offbeat comedies (Tim & Eric, Comedy Bang! Bang!, I Think You Should Leave), reality television (The Bachelor and The Bachelorette), game shows, commercials, even soap operas (an Emmy-nominated turn on The Bold and the Beautiful) — and it was not out of character.

Whether offering commentary on a dog show in the film Best in Show or reciting Grandmaster Flash lyrics on the show Review, Willard demonstrated a talent for creating a distinctive character at a moment’s notice.

Willard’s indelible comic timing and amicable personality have resulted in an outpouring of tributes to him on social media — including Steve Carell, who dubbed him “the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with.” Kreps notes that Willard also made numerous late-night talk show appearances, and was a favorite of both David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.

Over the course of his life, Fred Willard created a host of memorable, hilarious characters, and earned the admiration of his peers. The tributes pouring in today serve as a testament to his skill and his charm. His legacy will continue to inspire and entertain for years to come.

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