Fred Willard

Best known for his buttoned-up professionals with no sense of their own cluelessness, actor Fred Willard emerged from the 1960s improv scene to become a critic's favorite and an admired comedy veteran. After earning an initial cult following as the dimwitted sidekick of talk show host Martin Mull in the cutting-edge parody "Fernwood 2-Night" (syndicated, 1977-78), Willard fans generally caught glimpses of the actor in character roles as self-assured and wildly incorrect authority figures in unremarkable film and television comedies. But his supporting roles in the "mockumentary" style films of Christopher Guest, beginning with "This is Spinal Tap" (1984), truly showcased Willard's unique gifts for creating memorable middle America characters largely through on-camera improvisation. Among his most beloved Guest-directed performances were that of a dog show sports commentator unschooled in the sport in "Best in Show" (2000) and as an overbearing entertainment news host in "For Your Consideration" (2006). Willard also received acclaim for guest-starring stints on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS, 1996-2005) , "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997) and "Modern Family" (ABC 2009-20). Because of his gift for improvisational comedy, Willard remained a frequent late night guest while continuing to work steadily well into the next millennium. Fred Willard died on March 15, 2020,