Jimmy Kimmel Pays Tribute to Fred Willard: "He Had a Light Inside Him"

Fred Willard - Getty - H 2020
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After collaborating with Fred Willard on a number of late-night shows over the years, Jimmy Kimmel paid tribute to the Waiting for Guffman actor and comedy icon on his Monday night show.

The late-night host dedicated the latest Jimmy Kimmel Live! to remembering the Willard, who died on Friday night in Los Angeles of natural causes at the age of 86. "He was more than just funny. He had a light inside him; you could see a glint of it in his eyes. And it made everyone around him happy," Kimmel said at the top of the show.

After Willard co-hosted one of Kimmel's late-night shows, the Live! host had the actor back several times, to the point where he became "a very regular part of our show," Kimmel said. In the summer of 2018, Willard's wife, Mary, had just died, and "we wanted to come up with something for him to do." When Trump announced his Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military and the Live! team learned Willard had starred in the 1978 TV movie Space Force, they asked him to reprise his role in a skit.

Later, Kimmel said, "we started putting him in everything, every sketch." There were times, he added, when his writing team would pitch five ideas a day for Willard. "Sometimes he'd be in two bits per monologue ... we could not get enough Fred," Kimmel said. In a video compilation of his appearances, Willard can be seen playing Fred C. Trump, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and a Florida man named "Goose Halpern," among many other roles.

Later in the show, Kimmel invited some of Willard's notable collaborators to record memories of the actor. His Waiting for Guffman co-star Catherine O'Hara remembered him as "wildly, unbelievably funny," which helped her to overcome her nerves in the film. Director Christopher Guest, who cast Willard in mockumentaries including This Is Spinal Tap, Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration and TV shows Family Tree and Mascots, recalled once running out of film on a movie and yelling "Cut," to which Willard replied, "I'm not finished." Guest said, "I think he could have gone on forever. He had an astounding gift."

Eugene Levy, who worked with Willard on Best in Show and other films, recalled being concerned that the third act of that film wouldn't be entertaining until director Guest suggested Willard could be the color commentator. "All you had to do was mention Fred Willard as the color commentator and the entire act was going to be funny," Levy said.

Willard's Modern Family co-stars Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen also contributed memories, as did Ray Romano (who worked with him on Everybody Loves Raymond), collaborator Martin Mull and Norman Lear (who worked with him on Fernwood 2 Night and other titles). "I never enjoyed anyone in our business, the entertainment business, as much as Fred Willard. I loved him as a man. I adored him as a character," Lear said.