As we get older one immutable fact of life is that there are people that we’ve enjoyed immensely that are going to pass from this life eventually. Some go too soon without having done enough in the eyes of many, some go without having resolved major issues in their lives, and then some pass away after having a largely successful life that was shared with many and made them loved by the masses. Fred Willard wasn’t likely known by all but he was definitely cherished and appreciated by those that did know him and enjoyed his presence and his work on screen. Fred passed due to natural causes as it’s been reported by Mike Barnes of The Hollywood Reporter and many others, and is going to be missed without any doubt given how popular he was among various crowds. Everyone that watched and knew of him is likely to have their own special memories and favored characters that they watched him play, and in that respect I won’t be any different since there are moments in cinema and on TV that he played a great role or was simply hilarious for the time he was on screen. Looking at his filmography it’s hard to pick just a couple so it’s fair to say that a lot of people might try to gloss over his entire career, which started way back in the 50s and was still cruising along into the present day as he hadn’t lost a step in all those years when it came to improvisation and simply acting out one scene or another.
Funny enough, one character that comes to mind is Harold Flaherty from American Wedding, Michelle’s father. What’s so special about this part isn’t how much time he spent on screen but how he went about performing his role, as the funny but definitely stern father that didn’t mind being spanked by a female cop in tight-fitting leather unless his wife was standing right next to him. The scenes in which he was required to have a reaction that was fit to make people bust up laughing were simply great as from the moment that he and his wife and Jim’s parents walked in on the debacle with Jim, Stifler, and the Flaherty’s dogs to the moment the four parents were talking about Michelle ‘becoming a woman’ on her wedding night, it was comedy gold. He was the type of father in the movie that had trouble approving of Jim simply because as in all the American Pie movies, at least the core movies, Jim just has really bad luck and gets caught doing strange things at the wrong time by the wrong people. Mr. Flaherty wasn’t a huge influence in the movie but he was still highly amusing.
Fred was comfortable as the main attraction or as a supporting character, as was made clear by how he embraced each one of his roles and just let things progress as they would. If there was ever any pressure or problems back stage then it was hard to tell since the guy was simply great in every role he played in. Obviously there were a few duds here and there, such as Date Movie where he played Bernie Funkyerdoder in a parody of Meet the Parents, but even that role was pretty funny since it took its cues from a host of dramatic comedies and made it all work into a crazy but absolutely hilarious movie that didn’t get nearly enough credit for what it was trying to do. Of course at that point the spoof movies were kind of wearing thin at that time since the Scary Movie push had really set the bar incredibly high, and anything that came after Scary Movie 2 was seen to be kind of ‘meh’ unless they pushed the envelope in a way that was going to slap people awake and get their attention. Fred though was just as funny as he’s always been and pushed on, still doing his thing no matter if the projects he was working on were successful or not.
Of course one of the more popular and fairly recent roles he was seen in within the past decade was as Frank Dunphy, Phil Dunphy’s father on Modern Family. He was a recurring character on the show that didn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but was still pleasing and very amusing each time he was there. He didn’t get to be that outlandish on the show as he was basically there to support the main cast and be Phil’s dad, but he was still a lot of fun. Looking at his career it’s easy to see that Fred didn’t spend a lot of time sitting around doing nothing as his schedule was insanely busy, meaning he was out there doing what he loved and entertaining people for decades. He’s going to be missed for certain, but hopefully at this time he’s been reunited with his wife, who passed on a couple years back. Rest in peace sir.