'Modern Family' Star Fred Willard Dead at 86: Stars Pay Tribute
Fred Willard, who played Phil Dunphy’s father on Modern Family, has died at the age of 86.
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His agent told The Hollywood Reporter that the comedian died of natural causes on Friday, May 15. His daughter, Hope, said he passed “very peacefully … He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever.”
Jamie Lee Curtis, whose husband Christopher Guest directed Willard in several films including This Is Spinal Tap, shared a clip of the actor in Best in Show, writing on Saturday, May 16, “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts. He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.” (Willard’s wife of 50 years, Mary Willard, died in 2018. The couple shared daughter Hope and grandson Freddie.)
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The Ohio native, who was nominated for Emmy awards for his recurring roles in Modern Family and Everybody Loves Raymond, got his start in New York in the late 1950s, teaming with comedian Vic Grecco. The pair made appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Dean Martin Show before going their separate ways in 1968.
Willard also worked at The Second City improv comedy theater in Chicago and was a founding member of the comedy group Ace Trucking Company. They appeared on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson more than 50 times.
On TV, Willard hosted the talk show What’s Hot, What’s Not from 1985 to 1986, earning a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Talk Show Host. He also appeared in films including A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and WALL-E.
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The actor scored Emmy nominations for his recurring role as Hank MacDougall on Everybody Loves Raymond in 2003, 2004 and 2005, hosted Saturday Night Live in 1978 and appeared in more than 100 sketches on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. He also guested on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, playing characters including the ghosts of Fred Trump and George Washington.
Willard’s Modern Family character, Frank Dunphy, appeared in episodes across 11 seasons of the ABC hit, scoring an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 2010. His character died of old age in January.
Scroll down to read the stars’ tributes to Willard.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson
The Modern Family alum tweeted, “Rest In Peace sweet @Fred_Willard. You will always be a true original and I am so honored that our lives intersected. No one will ever come close to replacing your genius.”
“Gutted,” the Anchorman actress tweeted. “His immense talent and kindness will never be forgotten. We love you Fred Willard. Thank you for the decades of laughter.”
“There was no man sweeter or funnier,” the talk show host wrote. “We were so lucky to know Fred Willard and will miss his many visits.”
“RIP to the legendary #FredWillard,” the comedian tweeted. “The first time I worked with him ironically it was a table reading for a Drama/comedy play. I was still in The Groundlings in those days. He looked right in my eyes when we had dialogue. Basic but vital acting tip. Oh and funny as f—k.”
“Fred Willard was the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with,” Carell wrote of his Anchorman costar. “He was a sweet, wonderful man.
The Happy Days alum tweeted, “RIP Fred Willard ..you were incomparable.”
Jamie Lee Curtis
The Halloween actress, whose husband, Christopher Guest, directed Willard in several films, took to social media to share a clip of the actor in the 2000 mockumentary Best in Show. ” How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts,” she wrote. “He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.”