Hal Willner, a longtime sketch music producer for Saturday Night Live and a music producer and compiler of tribute albums and concerts, died Monday of complications related to COVID-19, according to multiple reports. He was 64.
Willner, who joined SNL in 1981, also produced albums for such artists as Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Marianne Faithfull and Lucinda Williams. He was a score producer for films including Finding Forrester (2000) and Gangs of New York (2002) and served as a music consultant or supervisor on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Bewitched (2005) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), among many other credits.
“As unique a person I ever had the fortune to cross paths with,” tweeted Seth Meyers, Late Night host and former SNL staffer.
Willner also carved a niche for himself in the tribute album and concert fields, starting with 1988’s Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films, featuring a wide array of pop artists including Bonnie Raitt, Michael Stipe and Ringo Starr. He’d follow up that album with similarly eclectic collections devoted to Nino Rota, Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and Charles Mingus. According to Variety, which first reported news of Willner’s death, he was compiling a T. Rex tribute album at the time of his death.
Willner also worked on tribute concerts and events, including 2017’s Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen and 2001’s Los Angeles tribute concert to “Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music.”
Willner tweeted on March 28 indicating he was sick with the coronavirus. “I always wanted to have a number one – but not this,” he wrote above a United States map indicating New York as the nation’s top COVID-19 hot spot. “Pure Arch Oboler with Serling added. In bed on upper west side. H” (The name checks refer to Arch Oboler, who wrote the 1930s horror radio series Lights Out and many others, and The Twilight Zone creator-writer Rod Serling.)
A day later, Willner tweeted a message to musician and songwriter John Prine: “Sending love to John Prine who is in critical condition with COVID-19.. John is a music giant. His songs are as good as it gets and he’s a spellbinding performer. Send good thoughts his way. ‘I sound like that old guy down the street that doesn’t chase you out of his apple tree.’”