Fred Willard, 'Best in Show' and 'Modern Family' Star, Dead at 86

Legendary comedian and actor Fred Willard passed away on Friday, May 15 at the age of 86, his daughter confirmed on Twitter. Hope Willard posted the news of her father's passing on Saturday afternoon after other stars began mourning the comedian publicly, including actress Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband Christopher Guest. Willard's agent, Glenn Schwartz, told Rolling Stone that the actor died of natural causes.

Willard passed away "very peacefully," according to his daughter. "He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever," she said. This followed another mournful tweet from actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who was the first to break the news. "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," she wrote.

Willard was married to his wife Mary for 40 years until her passing in 2018. Their daughter was born in 1969, and their grandson, Freddie, was born in 1997.

Willard is also survived by a huge cast of friends, colleagues and admirers in the entertainment industry. The comedian had a long career in Hollywood starting in 1966 with the TV western Pistols 'n' Petticoats. He went on to appear in memorable shows like Get Smart, Laverne and Shirley and The Bob Newhart Show, among many others..

In later years, Willard was a star of the big screen as well, with some of his most iconic roles being This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. In a statement on Saturday, Willard's agent Michael Eisenstat remarked that Willard brought the same energy and creativity to all of his roles throughout the years.

"Fred was one of the busiest comedic actors in a career which lasted over 50 years," he said. "Fred truly enjoyed each role and gave each performance his own special spin. He was truly a comedic genius."

One of Willard's most recent roles was on Modern Family, where he appeared with some regularity to play Phil Dunphy's father. He was nominated for an Emmy for that performance — the fourth Emmy nod of his career. In recent years, he has also been making regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to perform skits, provide commentary and play various characters.


Willard's final role will be released posthumously — the new Netflix original series Space Force. Willard plays Fred Naird, father of Steve Carell's character General Mark R. Naird on the show, and is listed in the cast of all 10 episodes. The series hits Netflix on Friday, May 29.