Late night host Jimmy Kimmel often featured Fred Willard on his show, and was quick to remember the actor as one of the sweetest and nicest men he ever worked with. Willard died of natural causes at age 86, his daughter Hope Malburgar confirmed. Willard most recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier this year.
"There was no man sweeter or funnier. We were so lucky to know Fred Willard and will miss his many visits," Kimmel tweeted, alongside a Los Angeles Times story on Willard's relationship with Kimmel. Willard appeared on the show in 2018 about a month after his wife Mary's death because Kimmel asked him to star in a sketch parodying President Donald Trump's Space Force. Coincidentally, Willard not only stars in the upcoming Steve Carell Netflix sitcom called Space Force, but he also made a failed pilot in 1978 called Space Force.
Willard's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! so soon after Mary's death was therapeutic. Hope went to the taping with him and recalled seeing him nervous until he took the stage. "I went with him and I was nervous," Hope recalled. "He was so quiet. He put on his costume, and I laughed and started to take a picture to text to my mom … which was weird. But she would have laughed. Then, he went to do the scene and all of a sudden, Bam! Fred Willard in hilarious action. He nailed the bit."
"I didn't see it as helping him out as much as it was just that he’s one of the funniest people in the world," Kimmel explained. "And wouldn't it be nice to bring him here so he's surrounded by a lot of supportive people?" Willard said the offer to do the sketch "came out of nowhere" and he felt "this great sense of accomplishment" after it was over.
Throughout JKL's run, Willard has been called on to play Trump's father, party planners, a Florida election official and even a teenager taking college entrance exams for rich kids. In January, he played the director of Carnival Cruise's public relations in a sketch parodying the cruise line's offensive clothing ban. Kimmel told the Times he could rely on Willard because his appeal spans generations.
"It's a good place to put my brain, because you’re out, you’re active," Willard explained of his work with Kimmel. "You do a good job and start thinking, ‘Where should I go eat afterward?’ It fills your day, and that’s a great thing. I do sometimes think, 'Thank God for Jimmy Kimmel.' Even if all this had ended after 'Space Force,' it's been fun. There’s a lot of funny people out there, very good actors, who aren’t working, so I’m fortunate I’ve done as many appearances as I have and fortunate to have Jimmy Kimmel as a friend.”
Kimmel was not the only person in Hollywood who regularly called up Willard with offers. He appeared in more than 300 movies and television shows over a six-decade career. He will next be seen as the father of Carell's character in the new Space Force, created by Carell and The Office's Greg Daniels. The series debuts on May 29 on Netflix.