Fred Willard passed away on May 15, at the age of 86. I was sorry for his passing, but then it struck me that his legacy has been recorded for all time and for all of us to see. I have been a Fred fan since his appearance as Martin Mull’s sidekick, as Jerry Hubbard, in “Fernwood 2 Night” – a parody of talk shows – that ran in 1977. Much more recently he appeared largely in cameos in “Modern Family,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the “Anchorman” movies, and all too briefly in “Space Force,” which Netflix debuts on May 29. But it remains the Christopher Guest “mockumentaries” where Fred Willard’s comedic genius truly became apparent. Guest co-wrote, directed and starred in “Waiting for Guffman,” “A Mighty Wind,” “Mascots,” “For Your Consideration” and “Best in Show,” each of which featured recurring cast members, including Fred Willard. And it was Fred who generally stole each movie. He was at his best in “Best In Show,” as Buck Laughlin (below), the colour commentator paired with Jim Piddock playing Trevor Beckwith. “Best in Show” parodied elaborate dog shows, with Beckwith as an expert on dogs, and Fred’s character, who knew absolutely nothing of dogs, coming up with gems like these:
“It’s sad to think, when you look at how beautiful these dogs are, that in some countries these dogs are eaten.”,
“Now tell me, which of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?”
At one point he asks Beckwith to guess how much he (Buck) can bench press, and makes the observation about miniature schnauzers, that “you’d think they’d want to breed ‘em bigger wouldn’t you?”
Martin Mull, an admirer of Fred’s improvisation abilities, said that Fred did not have a turn signal. Well put.
And Steve Carell (below), with whom Fred worked on “Space Force,” said that after a single 5 minute improvised take on the set of “Space Force,” the crew gave Fred a standing ovation.
Christopher Guest said of Fred, with obvious admiration, “He has this Fred energy, which is not like anyone else’s in the world. Fred is from another place. Unfortunately, we don’t know where that is.”
Guest, born in the U.K., is the 5th Baron, Haden-Guest, and a British peer. He is also married to Jamie Lee Curtis (Lord Haden-Guest and Ms. Curtis, aka The Right Honourable Lady Haden-Guest, below). Ms. Curtis said of Fred, ”How lucky we all are that we got to witness his great gifts.”
Fred had received many accolades and awards over the years, but when asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he responded, “teaching my daughter how to catch a fly ball.”