The Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer paid tribute to his This Is Spinal Tap co-star Fred Willard, calling him the "funniest human" to ever walk the planet. Willard died Friday night from natural causes at age 86, his daughter Hope announced Saturday. Shearer starred in This Is Spinal Tap as a member of the fictional heavy rock band, alongside Michael McKean and Christopher Guest.
"Just learned of Fred Willard's passing. Just about the funniest human ever to walk the planet. An amazing talent, in telekinetic contact with the very wellspring of comedy," Shearer tweeted. He later shared a recording of Willard explaining the "true story" of Christmas, taken from one of Shearer's live albums with wife Judith Owen. When one fan noted how Willard was "inherently funny," Shearer added, "Yep, he saved many a page of mediocre script-writing."
McKean also praised Willard who played a lieutenant at the military base where Spinal Tap plays, as one of the best. "I'm at a loss for words, a state Fred Willard never found himself in," McKean wrote. "My friend for 40+ years, a great comic actor who had no competition because there was only one of him. We were all so lucky. Goodbye, Fred."
Following his work in Spinal Tap, Willard went on to have a fruitful relationship with Guest, starring in many of the writer-director's mockumentaries. He starred in Guest's Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration and Mascots. While Guest has not commented on Willard's death, his wife, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, announced Willard's death before the media reported it. "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's career stretched back to the mid-1960s and he accumulated more than 300 film and television credits. He earned three Emmy nominations for his guest role on Everybody Loves Raymond and a fourth for playing Ty Burrell's on-screen father in Modern Family. Willard never retired, and recently made several appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.
Willard also completed work on Space Force, a new Netflix sitcom starring Steve Carell, which will be released on May 29. He was also seen in episodes of The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, and appeared in a sketch in Netflix's I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson. Willard is survived by his daughter Hope and grandson Freddie. Mary, his wife of more than 50 years, died in 2018.