Photo: Clarence Williams/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Hal Willner, GRAMMY-Winning Producer & "SNL" Mainstay, Dies At 64 After Showing COVID-19 Symptoms
The music world lost another bright light today, as GRAMMY-winning producer Hal Willner has died after experienceing symptoms consistent with coronavirus. He was 64 years old.
"We join the entertainment community in mourning the passing of producer Hal Willner. Hal’s contributions to countless unforgettable musical moments across film, TV and recordings have left an irrefutable mark on our culture, and we send our deepest condolences to his loved ones during this difficult time," said Harvey Mason Jr, Chairman and Interim CEO Recording Academy.
Willner was known for having a palpable passion for music, and as a record producer, he worked with Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed, the Neville Brothers, Leon Redbone, Lucinda Williams and more. He carved a niche for himself in the world of tribute concerts and compilations, where he brougth together a wide array of artists, such as Deborah Harry, Wynton Marsalis, Elvis Costello, Henry Rollins, Dr. John, Leonard Cohen, Chuck D, Michael Stipe, Sun Ra, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Ringo Starr and many more.
“He gets musicians together who wouldn’t get together,” NRBQ’s Terry Adams once said of Willner. “And it always works.”
Since 1981, Willner had selected the music for the skits of "Saturday Night Live," where he left an indelible mark on the show in the 40 years he spent working on it.
Willner also counted film scoring credits to his name, including Finding Forester, Talladega Nights and Gangs of New York which earned Willner his first career GRAMMY nomination for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media for 2003.
The following year, Willner earned two more nominations and won the GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his work as producer of Bill Frisell's Unspeakable.
While no official cause of death has been revealed, Willner suggested he was suffering from symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and referenced the virus in a tweet on March 28.
Willner's final tweet was to wish John Prine well, as Prine fell ill with COVID-19.
"I’m also not just a record producer but rather an all-around collaborator, a one-stop shop," Willner said in 2017, when asked about working with Lou Reed, one of his closest collaborators. "But with [Reed], you came ready to work. He taught me to focus, really focus. You did your job. Bear with him. Listen hard, then harder. Follow his lead and call the shots when they needed to be called.”
Willner's most recent project was producing a yet-to-be released tribute album in honor of Marc Bolan and T. Rex that included U2, Joan Jett, Nick Cave and more.
Tributes online from the around the worlds of music, television and film continue to pour in for Willner, as the entertainment industry loses another giant to the coronavirus pandemic.
Learn more about how you can donate to or apply for assistance via the Recording Academy's and MusiCares' COVID-19 Relief Fund.
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