Tragedy has struck the Saturday Night Live family amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to Variety, Hal Willner, a long-time sketch music producer for SNL, has died of complications relating to the coronavirus. Willner was 64. The news comes a little over a week after Willner alluded to having the illness on his Twitter account, as Variety also noted.
Willner has been involved with making the musical skits for SNL since 1980. He also worked on another Lorne Michaels program, Sunday Night (which is also known as Night Music). On Sunday Night, which was an eclectic weekly music show hosted by David Sanborn from 1988 to 1990, Willner worked as a music coordinator. Of course, Willner also enjoyed a successful career outside of late-night television and sketch comedy.
The musician also produced albums for several high-profile artists. Variety reported that he produced albums for Marianne Faithfull, Laurie Anderson, Lucinda Williams and Lou Reed (including his final major studio album, Ecstasy). Additionally, he's helmed several full-length tribute specials, including 1988's Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films. The special saw performances from numerous acts such as the Replacements, Ringo Starr and Tom Waits singing renditions of classic Disney tracks. He has also produced others such as Amarcord Nino Rota, That's The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk" and Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus, the latter of which saw vocal interpretations from Elvis Costello, Leonard Cohen and Chuck D.
"It's not any kind of radical thinking," Willner said in a New York Times profile in 2017 about how he gets artists together for these tributes. "That's what we had growing up. Bill Graham would have Led Zeppelin preceded by the Bonzo Dog Band and Rahsaan Roland Kirk on the same show. How many people saw Patti LaBelle opening for Richard Pryor? So it's just continuing a philosophy from that point of view. But people don't do that anymore."
"If I miss anything, it's the amount of eccentrics walking around, and hearing about culture everywhere on the street," he went on to share about what he misses about New York City. "It's still there. It just doesn't mix like it did. Most people I knew were into all of it. I was a watcher, not a doer. I still am. I remember walking Rahsaan Roland Kirk around New York when I was 18, and I went from that to producing Lou Reed. It's crazy. I had a big place at one time, both Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull were staying there at the same time. How lucky I was to be in the midst of that."