The indelible comic actor Fred Willard passed away May 15 at the age of 86. Best remembered for his roles as delightful oafs in the Christopher Guest improv ensembles Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and A Mighty Wind–Willard’s career spanned over fifty years, including a late-career flowering on TV, earning four Emmy nominations for his work on Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family.
Fred Willard was born Frederick Charles Willard Jr. on September 18, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio.
After serving in the Army, Willard spent two years studying acting and improvisation, first at the Showcase Theater in Manhattan and later with the Second City in Chicago. Along with a comedy parter, Willard slowly began making appearances in popular variety shows, Including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Carol Burnett Show.
Willard’s break-out role came over a decade later, when, in 1977, he was cast in the Norman Lear sitcom Fernwood 2 Night, a satire of a small-town TV talk show co-starring Martin Mull.
In 1984, Willard appeared briefly in the Rob Reiner film This is Spinal Tap, where he met Christopher Guest, who co-starred in the film as a member of the band. A decade later, Guest would cast Willard in his beloved improvised ensemble Waiting for Guffman. Willard played Ron Albertson, a goofy travel agent and amateur community actor with hopes for Hollywood.
In Guest’s Best in Show (2000), Willard–among an ensemble of scene-stealing performances–stole the show as bumbling dog-show announcer Buck Laughlin.
Then, in 2003, there was Mike LaFontaine, the cringingly bafoonish show business manager in Guest’s A Mighty Wind.
Between 2003-5, Willard was nominated thrice for his role as Brad Garret’s father-in-law on Everybody Loves Raymond. And during Modern Family’s eleven seasons, Willard played Ty Burrell’s father, earning an Emmy nomination in 2010.
Over his fifty-year career, Willard appeared in over 700 films, TV movies and episodes. Willards final TV appearance will be in the upcoming Netflix series Space Force, where he plays the ailing father of Steve Carell.