Comedic actor and improvisational legend Fred Willard died of natural causes on Friday, May 15 at the age of 86. The This Is Spinal Tap, Anchorman, and Modern Family actor was often cast in supporting roles, but for over five decades, he had a way of taking smaller roles and running away with the scene. His work garnered four Emmy nominations for What’s Hot, What’s Not, Everybody Loves Raymond, Modern Family, and The Bold and the Beautiful.

“My father passed away very peacefully last night at the fantastic age of 86 years old,” Willard’s daughter Hope Mulbarger said in a statement. “He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much. We will miss him forever.”

Here is a glimpse of the great Fred Willard’s comedic roles.

This Is Spinal Tap 

In the Rob Reiner mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, Willard improvises an officer greeting the featured heavy metal band in a socially cringeworthy manner. In real life, Willard had attended military school, so he based his performance on his military experiences saying he knew his character was “trying to fit in. He’s the entertainment director; he wanted to make it seem like he’s a regular guy,” he told the Archive of American Television.

Best in Show

In the Christopher Guest mockumentary Best in Show, Willard plays an announcer observing the meticulous judgment of each of the show dogs. As the terriers take center stage, Willard comments, “To think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.” “In Christopher Guest movies, it’s all improvised. You get a script—it’s about twelve pages of an outline,” Willard once explained. The actor improvised in several additional Guest mockumentaries including Waiting for Guffman, For Your Consideration, Mascots, and Anchorman.

A Mighty Wind

Another Guest film, A Mighty Wind, takes a satirical look at the world of folk music as it follows a folk-music reunion concert. Guest once described what it’s like to work with Willard, saying: “Everyone’s watching Fred work—without an exception. You know, it’s like kids at a party. This is fun. This is fun to do.” In the above scene in A Mighty Wind, the director gave one simple direction to Willard: “Interrupt them.” 


In the Anchorman movies, Willard portrays the news-station producer Edward “Ed” Harken who always seems to be having trouble parenting his unraveling teenage son.

Modern Family

Willard also guest-starred as Frank Dunphy, Phil’s dad in the ABC family sitcom Modern Family. The relationship between father and son left fans wishing they got to see more of their onscreen chemistry.

Willard’s advice to actors

“If there are any improv performers here, I always advise [that you] get up, get into a scene if you get into a group, don’t try to be funny. You don’t have to be funny. Just get into the flow, and pretty soon if you’re funny, it’ll be funny, and if not funny, it’ll be interesting. And just get your feet wet and try it there,” Willard said at a Cinefamily Tribute honoring his career.

In response to the news of Willard’s death, several actors stepped forward to pay their respects.

Jamie Lee Curtis tweeted, “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.” Curtis is married to Christopher Guest.

Steve Carell wrote, “Fred Willard was the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with. He was a sweet, wonderful man.”

Steve Martin posted to social media, “RIP, Fred. You were always my comic hero. I was thrilled to work with you in Roxanne.”

Jackee Harry tweeted, “We were fortunate to have worked with the hilarious Fred Willard on several episodes of ‘Sister, Sister.’ His comedy chops were unbeatable. We’ll miss you, friend.”

And Nick Kroll wrote, “There is nobody funnier than Fred Willard. Every time he was on screen, I got excited and he never disappointed. Every time I saw him in real life, he was kind and generous.”

Rest in peace, Fred Willard.