'Modern Family' cast honors late Fred Willard: 'You will always be a true original'

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Rico Rodriguez shared tributes.

May 18, 2020, 3:18 PM

The cast of “Modern Family” paid tribute to Fred Willard, the comedic actor and improv legend who died at the age of 86 and who starred as the father of character Phil Dunphy on the hit sitcom.

KABC Los Angeles confirmed the actor died in his sleep Friday night, with his daughter Hope Mulbarger telling KABC in a statement, “He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much. We will miss him forever.”

Willard’s "Modern Family" co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson wrote on Twitter, “Rest In Peace sweet @Fred_Willard. You will always be a true original and I am so honored that our lives intersected. No one will ever come close to replacing your genius.”

Ferguson’s on-screen husband Eric Stonestreet also shared his praise of Willard. “It was a privilege to have the great Fred Willard know my name. Rest In Peace Fred. You were funny in your bones," he said on Twitter.

Rico Rodriguez, who played Manny Delgado on “Modern Family,” tweeted, “RIP to one of our family members. It was always a pleasure having you on set. Thank you for the laughs! You will be missed, Mr. Willard." Nolan Gould, who played Willard’s on-screen grandson Luke, called Willard “a joy to work with” and said he “forever changed comedy.”

Before “Modern Family,” Willard’s career spanned for decades with stage, TV and film appearances. He established himself as a master of the mockumentary in numerous Christopher Guest films, including “Best in Show,” “For Your Consideration” and “A Mighty Wind.” He also appeared in memorable roles in “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

Willard's TV roles garnered four Emmy nominations. He was nominated three times for his guest role on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and once for his role as Phil Dunphy’s father Frank on “Modern Family.” His death comes just months after an episode of “Modern Family,” where his character died of natural causes.

Willard also starred opposite Steve Carell in the upcoming Netflix series “Space Force,” which is set to begin streaming May 29. Carell tweeted Saturday, “Fred Willard was the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with. He was a sweet, wonderful man.”

Other celebrities paying tribute include Jamie Lee Curtis, whose husband is Christopher Guest. She wrote on Instagram, “A fond farewell to Mr. Fred Willard. How lucky we all are that we got to witness his great gifts. Thanks for the deep belly laughs. You are now with Mary. Home safe.” Mary is Willard's wife of 50 years, who died in July 2018.

Writer-director Judd Apatow also tweeted praise of Willard, declaring, "Fred Willard could not have been funnier. He was pure joy. And the sweetest person you could ever meet."