Comic actor Fred Willard, known for his roles in Christopher Guest’s movies and as part of a same-sex couple in the original run of Roseanne, died Friday at age 86.
Willard died of natural causes, his spokesman Glenn Schwartz told Rolling Stone. His daughter, Hope Willard, tweeted that he died “very peacefully” and “kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end.”
Fred Willard started acting in the 1960s and gained fame in the late 1970s playing Jerry Hubbard on the talk-show spoof Fernwood Tonight. Hubbard was the somewhat clueless sidekick to smarmy host Barth Gimble (Martin Mull) in the show set in Fernwood, Ohio, also the setting of the popular soap-opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. It later became America Tonight.
In the 1990s, he reunited with Mull on Roseanne. Mull played Leon, Roseanne Conner’s (Roseanne Barr) boss, and Willard appeared as Scott, his fiancé and later husband.
Later, Willard acted in several of Guest’s ensemble comedy films, such as Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, and For Your Consideration. In the latter, he appeared again as cohost of a talk show, this time partnered with out actress Jane Lynch.
He was also known for fatherly roles on television. On Everybody Loves Raymond, he played conservative Christian Frank MacDougall, father-in-law to Robert Barone (Brad Garrett). Willard was nominated for Emmys three times for the role. He received another nomination for his recurring role as Frank Dunphy, father of Ty Burrell’s Phil Dunphy on Modern Family.
His other credits included the Will Ferrell films Anchorman and Anchorman 2 and the upcoming TV series Space Force, starring Steve Carell. He appeared frequently in sketches on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and, until shortly before the current lockdown, on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Willard’s wife of 40 years, Mary, died in 2018. His survivors include his daughter and son-in-law, and a grandson.
Willard’s colleagues remembered him warmly.