Comedian Fred Willard, famous for mockumentary roles in 'Modern Family' and 'This Is Spinal Tap', dies aged 86

To a younger generation, Willard was possibly best known for his role as Frank Dunphy, the father of Phil Dunphy, on ‘Modern Family’. But to the older generation, Willard’s talent came in many forms


                            Comedian Fred Willard, famous for mockumentary roles in 'Modern Family' and 'This Is Spinal Tap', dies aged 86
Fred Willard (Getty Images)

Actor Fred Willard, known for his brand of clueless comedy and mockumentaries, died on Friday, May 15, at the age of 86. As per various reports, Willard died of natural causes.

His daughter Hope Mulbarger said in a statement, “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.”

Actor Jamie Lee Curtis, married to Willard’s longtime director Christopher Guest, wrote on Twitter, “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts. He is with his missed Mary now.”  Willard’s wife of 40 years, Mary, died in 2018. “Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard,” added Curtis.

To a younger generation, Willard was possibly best known for his role as Frank Dunphy, the father of Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), on the mockumentary sitcom series ‘Modern Family’. But to the older generation, Willard’s talents of comedy came in many forms. ‘Waiting for Guffman’, ‘Best in Show’, ‘For Your Consideration’, ‘A Mighty Wind’, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, ‘Anchorman’, ‘Austin Powers’ and more immortalize Willard in what he did best: making people laugh.

Born on September 18, 1933, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Willard did years of stage and sketch comedy, before making his big-screen debut in 1967 with ‘Teenage Mother’. His breakthrough role was that of Jerry Hubbard, an ambitious-but-dimwitted sidekick to Martin Mull's smarmy talk-show host Barth Gimble in the satirical series ‘Fernwood Tonight’ in 1977. 

Willard appeared more than a hundred times on Jay Leno’s ‘Tonight Show’, both as a guest and in sketches. He said in 2016, “That's always been my favorite thing: sketches. Because if the audience doesn't like something, it's over in four or five minutes and you go on to something new. You know how you go to a theater and after 10 minutes you say, 'Oh, I don't like this thing,' but you don't want to get up and leave? At a sketch show, it's always something new every few minutes.”

Willard will appear posthumously in the upcoming Netflix satirical series ‘Space Force’.

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