Fred Willard often popped up in unexpected places, and one of those was The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Franchise host Chris Harrison paid tribute to his unlikely co-star, who began co-hosting dates on the series in 2017. Willard's most recent appearance came in January, when he provided some wry commentary for a group date at the Cowboy Palace Saloon in California. Willard died from natural causes at age 86 Friday night.
Harrison shared a trio of photos from Willard's appearances on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette over the years, calling Willard a "legend." Harrison recalled how surprised he was to hear Willard agreed to first appear in the show in 2017, during Arie Luyendyk's Bachelor season. "We all instantly fell in love with this kind, giving, talented man," Harrison wrote. "After that day we agreed we'd keep asking Fred to come back as long as we could. Season after season he came back. He became a part of our Bachelor family."
"He will be dearly missed by all of us that looked forward to seeing him each season," Harrison continued. "The world lost a true gentleman. My thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family. Fred the next group date just won’t be the same without you. May God bless your soul my friend." At the end, Harrison added the hashtag "RIP."
Willard's cameos on the show usually required his skills as a commentator, famously displayed in Christopher Guest's classic mockumentary Best in Show. In fact, this is exactly why he was brought on during Luyendyk's season. "We wanted to do this date with dogs…it was similar to Best in Show, and we knew we needed a little help. We needed a little extra kind of celebrity assistance outside of Chris Harrison," executive producer Bennett S. Graebner told E! News in 2019. "Chris Harrison is great but sometimes he actually needs someone to talk to."
Graebner realized that Willard would be the perfect celebrity guest, and since he lived in Los Angeles, he happened to be available. "Chris loved working with him. We loved working with him. He was full of funny little anecdotes," the producer said. "I wouldn't say he was a student of The Bachelor, it's not like he watched the show religiously before he came to work with us, and yet he seemed like he had been a member of Bachelor Nation forever."
Willard starred in over 300 movies and television shows stretching back to the mid-1960s and was one of Hollywood's most beloved performers. Dozens of celebrities offered their condolences on social media. Jamie Lee Curtis, who is married to Guest, was the first person to report Wilalrd's death. "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.