Hal Willner, the longtime Saturday Night Live music supervisor, and music producer best known for his all-star tribute albums has died at the age of 64. Rolling Stone confirmed the producer’s death on Tuesday, along with reporting that Willner was dealing with coronavirus symptoms at the time of his passing.
In 1974, Willner entered the music industry at the ripe age of 18, working with producer Joel Dorn on albums for musicians like Bette Midler and Roberta Flack. By 1980 he had produced his first tribute album, recruiting musicians such as Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Wynton Marsalis for Amarcord Nino Rota, a jazz album of covers from Federico Fellini‘s films. In the same year, Willner would begin his lengthy career at Saturday Night Live as the music supervisor. He would continue to work for SNL while producing a variety of all-star tribute albums, including homages to Walt Disney, Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk.
Cherished by industry professionals, Willner had worked with a diverse group of celebrity musicians, from Keith Richards and Iggy Pop to Father John Misty, Kesha, and Joan Jett on a variety of projects that spanned many musical genres.
Upon hearing of the news, many took to Twitter to comment on Hal’s untimely passing.
SNL writer Paula Pell noted, “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
Julia Louis-Dreyfus said of his passing, “Absolutely devastated to get this news about my weird and lovely pal, Hal. We are heartbroken. Love, love, love to Sheila [Rogers] and Arlo [Willner]”.
Absolutely devastated to get this news about my weird and lovely pal, Hal. We are heartbroken. Love, love, love to Sheila and Arlohttps://t.co/p2cf9CRIrP
— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) April 7, 2020
Rest easy, Hal.