Willard’s daughter Hope announced his death in a statement, writing, “It is with a heavy heart that I share the news 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 got his start in sketch comedy on the stage, going on to appear in hundreds of films and TV shows in a career spanning more than 50 years. He collaborated extensively with Guest, and is perhaps best known for his work in the mockumentaries This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, among others.
“A fond farewell to Mr. Fred Willard. How lucky we all are that we got to witness his great gifts. Thanks for the deep belly laughs. You are now with Mary,” Guest’s wife Jamie Lee Curtis wrote on Instagram. (Willard’s wife Mary died in 2018.)
Willard’s other credits included such diverse projects as Anchorman, WALL-E (in which he played Pixar’s first live-action character), and The Bold and the Beautiful, for which he won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Special Guest Performer. He also earned multiple Emmy nominations for his recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, and one for his performance on Modern Family as Frank Dunphy, the beloved father of Phil (Ty Burrell). Coincidentally, Willard’s Modern Family character died in an episode that aired earlier this year.
“He’s really a consummate comedic actor, and we’ve been a fan of his for decades,” co-creator Christopher Lloyd told EW at the time. “So we always loved having him on the show. He just has a light touch with comedy, but there’s nothing easy about it for him. Fred rehearses and practices in his trailer endlessly. So he makes it look easy by working very, very hard.”
Willard will appear posthumously in Netflix’s forthcoming series Space Force, set to premiere May 29. “Fred Willard was the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with. He was a sweet, wonderful man,” his costar Steve Carell tweeted Saturday.
“We were all incredibly sad to hear about Fred. The cast and crew had enormous affection and respect for him. His performance at 86 was undiminished brilliance, like his life and career. He will be sorely missed,” Space Force co-creator Greg Daniels said in a statement.
Willard was beloved throughout the entertainment industry for his comedic talent, purported kindness, and philanthropy; he received a commendation from the City of Los Angeles and was praised by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for “outstanding humanitarian and philanthropic work.” You can see more tributes to Willard below.