Fred Willard played characters 'gloriously out of their depth'

 The Emmy Award-nominated comic actor Fred Willard.
The Emmy Award-nominated comic actor Fred Willard.

LOS ANGELES • The Emmy Award-nominated comic actor Fred Willard, best known for his roles in director Christopher Guest's improvised ensemble film comedies such as Best In Show (2000) and Waiting For Guffman (1996) and on sitcoms such as Modern Family (2009 to 2020) and Everybody Loves Raymond (1996 to 2005), died last Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by his agent Mike Eisenstadt. No specific cause was given.

Willard made an art of playing characters who, as The New Yorker once noted, are "gloriously out of their depth".

There was Buck Laughlin, the dog-show announcer in Best In Show, who wondered why breeders did not want miniature schnauzers to be larger. Willard received Best Supporting Actor nominations for the role from the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.

There was Ron Albertson, a travel agent trying his hand at community theatre, in Waiting For Guffman. And there was Mike LaFontaine, a laughably crude show business manager, in A Mighty Wind (2003).

In Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy (2004), Willard was the news station producer who horrified Ron (Will Ferrell) by promoting a woman to co-anchor.

Willard's characters were a bit more nuanced in his later, and most acclaimed, television roles. He was actor Brad Garrett's religious-nut father-in-law on several episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, bringing him Emmy Award nominations three years in a row (2003 to 2005).

Over the 11 seasons of Modern Family, he played actor Ty Burrell's father, leading to a fourth Emmy nomination, in 2010. The character died of old age in the show's final season, which ended last month.

Over the years, Willard became a favourite among talk-show hosts, making at least 50 guest appearances in sketches on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and also nine on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Willard was married to playwright Mary Lovell from 1968 until her death in 2018. He is survived by a daughter, Hope Mulbarger and a grandson, among others.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2020, with the headline 'Fred Willard played characters 'gloriously out of their depth''. Print Edition | Subscribe