Fred Willard on Modern Family – ABC/Richard Cartwright

The world of entertainment was dealt a crushing blow on Friday, when comic actor Fred Willard passed away from natural causes at the age of 86.  But fans will be treated to one final farewell performance, as he has a supporting role on Netflix’s upcoming comedy ‘Space Force’ from Steve Carrell and his ‘The Office’ collaborator Greg Daniels.  Willard portrayed Fred Naird, the father of Carrell’s Mark Naird, an Air Force general who is placed in charge of the U.S.’s new branch of the military.

While Willard has had a lengthy career with many highlights, many know him best from Christopher Guests’ comedies, most famously ‘Best in Show’, and also including ‘Waiting for Guffman’, ‘A Mighty Wind’, ‘For Your Consideration’, and ‘Mascots’.  What many may not realize is that those films are entirely improvised, meaning that while there is a story outline, the cast made up all of their dialogue on the spot.

It seems that Willard brought those improv chops to ‘Space Force’ as well.  Daniels shared a loving memory of working with Willard on the series.  (via The Hollywood Reporter)

“We were all really very sad to hear that he had passed away on Friday.  He was a comedy legend. His work made everyone respect him, and he was a very lovable guy. Steve had worked with him on Anchorman and knew him really well.

“I had the wonderful experience of being on the set when he did his first work for us in the first episode, and we had written something very funny for him, I thought, and he did it brilliantly.  And then, he’s a legendary improviser so at the end of it, we said, ‘Why don’t you just do whatever you want?’ And he went into this five-minute, incredibly funny story about crawling under the house, which you know we used completely as-is in the show.

“When he was done, the crew gave him a standing ovation, which I’ve never seen that happen before, but everybody knew how special the work was that he was doing.  And he was 86 years old, so people were just so impressed. So if there’s any consolation, I guess it was that his work was the highlight of the show.”

Hefty praise!  Fans will get to witness Fred Willard’s last performance when ‘Space Force’ arrives next Friday, May 29, on Netflix.  In addition to Willard and Carrell, the cast includes  John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome, Noah Emmerich, Jimmy O. Yang, Don Lake, and Lisa Kudrow.

Willard first gained notice from starring in the series ‘Fernwood 2 Night’ in 1977.  Most recently, he recurred on ‘Modern Family’ (pictured) as Phil Dunphy’s dad, Frank.  Willard’s wife, Mary, passed away in 2018.  They are survived by one daughter, Hope Mulbarger.  The news of Willard’s death was announced by his frequent collaborator Christopher Guest.