Fred Willard, the famous funnyman known for his roles on Modern Family, Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap, and The Bold and the Beautiful (ex-John Forrester) passed away on Friday at the age of 86. The actor's rep, Glenn Schwartz, confirmed that his death was due to natural causes.
Willard's daughter, Hope Mulbarger, also confirmed the sad news of her father's passing with the statement, "My father passed away very peacefully last night at the fantastic age of 86 years old. He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever."
Having grown up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Willard attended Kentucky Military Institute and Virginia Military Institute before being stationed in Germany as part of the United States Army. His stage career began when he moved to New York in the late 1950s, starting with a comedy act at the YMCA with his pal Vic Grecco that eventually made it onto television shows like The Dean Martin Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Tonight Show.
Willard made his big-screen debut in the little-seen 1967 film Teenage Mother. After a decade of bit parts, he finally achieved wider fame when he landed the role of Martin Mull's sidekick and announcer on the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman spinoff Fernwood 2 Night in 1977. This led to a long list of credits that includes films like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, For Your Consideration, A Mighty Wind, This is Spinal Tap, Anchorman, Austin Powers, and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle; sitcoms like Modern Family, New Girl, and Community; offbeat comedies like Tim & Eric, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and I Think You Should Leave; reality television like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette; and even game shows, commercials, and cartoons.
Having done it all -- or mostly all -- in his decades-long career, Willard decided in 2014 to join the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful as John Forrester, the quirky and zany brother of original B&B character Eric Forrester (John McCook). During a press event when he joined the CBS soap opera, he admitted that he had always dreamed of joining a daytime drama.
"I've always wanted to be on a soap opera, because as an actor, I love the way they work," he said at the time. "They work fast, and each scene is like a little quick one-act play; they don't beat it to death. The atmosphere was wonderful. The actors who have been on the show couldn't have been nicer. John McCook kind of showed me through the ropes and all and made me feel right at home. [Though], I kept expecting to be shuttered off to the side or pranked or something!"
Rather than being pranked, however, Willard was welcomed by the daytime community with open arms -- and he even took home the Daytime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Daytime Drama category in 2015 (he shared the award in a three-way tie with Ray Wise, who won for playing Ian Ward on The Young and the Restless, and Donna Mills, who won for playing Madeline Reeves on General Hospital).
"The cast, staff and crew of The Bold and the Beautiful mourn the passing of our friend and colleague, @Fred_Willard," reads a statement on B&B's Twitter account. "An amazing comedian & actor, he was also a gracious & kind man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
"Fred Willard was a brother to Eric Forrester on B&B," shared John McCook. "I should have been so blessed. RIP."
"Oh man the news of Fred Willard is so heartbreaking," tweeted Linsey Godfrey (Sarah Horton, Days of our Lives; ex-Caroline Spencer, B&B). "I had the pleasure of getting to work with him on @BandB_CBS. He was such a truly lovely and hysterical person."
Willard's wife, Mary, died nearly two years ago at the age of 71. The couple married in 1968 and had one daughter, Hope, who he leaves behind.
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