The Saturday Night Live family has lost one of their own.
In the music industry, Willner was best known for producing genre-blending tribute albums, but also worked with everyone from Lou Reed to Marianne Faithfull. He won his GRAMMY in 2004 for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his work producing Bill Frisell's record, Unspeakable.
Willner was hired as SNL's sketch music producer in 1981 and also worked on Lorne Michael's short-lived musical offshoot, Sunday Night. "In a weird way, I did do everything that I set out to do moving to New York," Willner said in a New York Times profile. "That’s incredible. So what can I possibly complain about?”
Following Willner's death, past and present SNL castmembers took to social media to reflect on his legacy. "RIP HAL WILLNER. An incredible person who so many of us will miss. Love u pal," tweeted Adam Sandler, alongside loving messages from John Mulaney, Seth Meyers and more.
RIP HAL WILLNER. An incredible person who so many of us will miss. Love u pal. pic.twitter.com/SB1G45x0dp— Adam Sandler (@AdamSandler) April 7, 2020
Hal— John Mulaney (@mulaney) April 7, 2020
I love you. I liked you in my life so much. When I got horrible reviews you sent me a full email of Lou Reed quotes on how to view critics. It meant so much to me. You changed my way of thinking on how to make stuff. You made what you wanted w/ the people you loved. Bye Hal pic.twitter.com/wGeaWvEILS
P.S. You loved life completely and lived it intensely and I know you would find it funny that it took a global pandemic to take you away. I am going to miss you a lot.— John Mulaney (@mulaney) April 7, 2020
As unique a person I ever had the fortune to cross paths with. https://t.co/aurXZNsEYX— Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers) April 7, 2020
My friend Hal passed away due to the coronavirus. He was a mad genius. He loved everything weird. He always made me feel good in an environment where it was sometimes hard to feel good about yourself. I really love him. I love you Hal. https://t.co/y1ocQIKo6Q— Taran Killam (@TaranKillam) April 7, 2020
The show's writing staff also paid their respects, with former writer Paula Pell tweeting, "Hal Willner was the gentlest genius at SNL. He bemoaned artists abandoning weirdness and authenticity but never gave up searching for it. We love you forever."
Hal Willner was the gentlest genius at SNL. He bemoaned artists abandoning weirdness and authenticity but never gave up searching for it. We love you forever. Fuck off this disease and especially its enablers. https://t.co/2KDPcSaCQa— Paula Pell (@perlapell) April 7, 2020
I loved Hal. I truly, truly loved that man. He was such a huge part of my time at SNL, and is such an enormous part of the show in general. (To say the VERY least.) He was kind, generous, insanely positive, and so, so talented. Im lucky I got to know him.https://t.co/UYL8uBTJP2— Chris Kelly (@imchriskelly) April 7, 2020
So sad. One of the friendliest, weirdest guys ever. The place won’t feel the same without him. https://t.co/pPndu6Smrc— Streeter Seidell (@streetseidell) April 7, 2020
On March 28, Willner tweeted about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including a graphic showing New York City as an epicenter and writing, "I always wanted to have a number one - but not this... In bed on upper west side"
I always wanted to have a number one - but not this . Pure Arch Oboler with Serling added . In bed on upper west side . H pic.twitter.com/zEqZmqmlWk— Hal Willner (@WillnerHal) March 28, 2020
Willner's final tweet, posted on March 29, sent love to fellow musician John Prine, who was hospitalized after contracting coronavirus: "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.'"