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Here's How Much Actor Fred Willard Was Really Worth

On May 15, 2020, we lost a comedy giant with the passing of Fred Willard. As the ultimate character actor, Willard boasted hundreds of film credits in his long career, and an even more storied gift to the entertainment world for simply having existed in it. He was most famous for his roles in the improvisational mockumentaries from director Christopher Guest, with This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and Best in Show being the foremost of those titles. Acting talent all across Hollywood such as Steve Carell and Jamie Lee Curtis poured out their sympathy for the loss of such a kind man and brilliant comedic mind. Though he was famous for playing glad-handing idiots and self-consumed, grandiose ignoramuses, he put deep thought into all his roles.

Fame can mean many things, and Willard's was a unique kind. He never held many true leading-man roles, opting instead for the collaborative nature of sketch comedy. From little-known 60s comedies to portraying the first gay marriage on TV to making jokes about blender-based hand injuries on The Tim and Eric Awesome Show: Great Job!, Willard worked in a comedic gamut many contemporaries past and present could only dream of, and he will be remembered and continue as an inspiration for many funny people for decades beyond. Did this plethora of talent riches translate to big bank to pass on? Here's what Fred Willard's creative exertions were really worth.

A rich legacy

According to Celebrity Net Worth, at the time of his death, Willard was worth around $5 million. That's certainly wealthy, but perhaps not what you'd expect of a man that's been on Jimmy Kimmel as many times as he has. 

To illustrate why that might be, consider the highest-grossing film in which Willard held a role: Wall-E. He's the un-animated CEO of the company that put the docile, tubby humans into space. It's a tiny role — almost a cameo — though according to Willard, Pixar rolled out the red carpet to get him to sign on.

This is the bulk of his filmography: comparatively smaller roles. Indeed, Willard's most famous works are ensemble films, and more importantly, independently produced. Best in Show, for all its cultural impact, made only $20 million worldwide at the box office. It wouldn't be out of place to describe Willard as one of the most successful character actors of all time — that doesn't make his work lesser, just more nuanced. 

Willard himself may have described it best in 2012 when The A.V. Club asked him why he had such an unnameable talent for roles in which he portrays a host: "The strange thing is, if I go to a party, I'm very quiet. I guess a lot of actors are that way: You just sit and take in characters. But that's overcome by my basic interest in what makes people tick. I love to talk to people about when they got started, how they first knew they were funny, when was their first this and that. That overwhelms my reticence, my shyness." A good host knows where they belong respective to the big star, and crafts his presence around enhancing the people and the moment — but they have to have the comedic timing to land a great joke, too.

Fred Willard was a fabulous host to our favorite comedic stylings, and we're all sad to see him go.