As news of Fred Willard's death spread on social media this weekend, his co-stars on Modern Family were some of the first to post mournful messages online. Willard was nominated for an Emmy for his recurring role on the beloved sitcom, and he was a fan-favorite as well. His co-stars clearly held him in high regard, judging by their eulogies for him online this weekend.
Willard passed away on Friday night due to natural causes, his agent Michael Eisenstat confirmed. According to his daughter he "passed away very peacefully" and "kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end." Still, the actor's death left many heartbroken, from the colleagues he met in his long career in Hollywood to the fans that watched him along the way. That included those that remembered him best from Modern Family in the last few years.
On the show, Willard played Frank Dunphy — father of Phil Dunphy and the only man alive who could deliver a more corny joke than his son. Over the course of the series he was the subject of some of the most light-hearted story lines and the most serious ones as well. After his wife passed away, Frank Dunphy spent much of his time driving cross-country and living in an RV for fun.
In the final season, Modern Family gave Frank an emotional send-off with the episode "Legacy," which premiered back in January. In it, Phil becomes concerned that Frank is suffering from dementia, and feels guilty for not realizing it sooner. In the end, it is revealed that Phil is sharing this story at a funeral for his father, who has just passed away.
That emotional gut-punch will not be Willard's last appearance on TV, as he has a starring role in the upcoming Netflix original series Space Force. In the meantime, here is what Willard's Modern Family co-stars are saying about his tragic passing on Friday.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Rest In Peace sweet @Fred_Willard. You will always be a true original and I am so honored that our lives intersected. No one will ever come close to replacing your genius.— Jesse Tyler Ferguson (@jessetyler) May 16, 2020
It was a privilege to have the great Fred Willard know my name. Rest In Peace Fred. You were funny in your bones. pic.twitter.com/PlFTCHFZCK— Eric Stonestreet (@ericstonestreet) May 16, 2020
RIP to one of our family members. It was always a pleasure having you on set. Thank you for the laughs! You will be missed, Mr. Willard 💔🙏🏽 https://t.co/aeQ9iZ0L6t— Rico Rodriguez (@StarringRico) May 16, 2020
View this post on Instagram
Series Co-Creator Steve Levitan