Fred Willard, prolific comic actor, dies at 86

Jamie Lee Curtis, wife of Willard’s longtime director Christopher Guest, first shared news of the actor’s passing.
/ Source: TODAY

Fred Willard, best known for his role in ensemble comedies like "Best in Show," "For Your Consideration" and "This Is Spinal Tap," has died. He was 86 years old.

Jamie Lee Curtis, wife of Willard’s longtime director Christopher Guest, first shared news of the actor’s passing. “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts,” Curtis tweeted. “He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.”

Willard’s wife Mary, who he married in 1968, died in 2018. They had one daughter, Hope Mulbarger, and one grandchild, Freddie.

Mulbarger confirmed Willard's death to TODAY, adding that the cause of death was natural causes. She 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.”

Willard was one of the busiest comedic actors in a career which lasted over 50 years. He recently completed his Emmy-nominated recurring role on "Modern Family" and can be seen later this month in his recurring role as Steve Carrell’s dad in the Netflix series "Space Force."

Jimmy Kimmel had Willard appear on his show every two weeks doing comedic sketches until the stay-at-home order began.

Other notable performances of his include the films "Anchorman," "Austin Powers" and "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," and the television shows "New Girl" and "Community."

Willard developed a respected reputation in Hollywood for enjoying every role and giving each performance his own special spin. He was known by many as a comedic genius.