Music producer and 'SNL' staffer Hal Willner dies aged 64 of coronavirus

Entertainment industry icons took to social media to express their heartfelt condolences to a man who had touched so many of their lives and careers.

The logo for 'Saturday Night Live.' (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The logo for 'Saturday Night Live.'
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Jewish American music producer and long time staffer on Saturday Night Live Hal Willner passed away a day after his 64th birthday in his Manhattan home, multiple news outlets reported.
The cause of death has yet to be officially confirmed, but a source close to the family told Rolling Stone that Willner was exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
Born in Philadelphia to a Holocaust survivor father, Willner got his start working for producer Joel Dorn after he moved to New York in 1974, and began producing a long line of successful tribute albums starting in 1980.
In his long career in creating tribute albums, he would enlist the talents of iconic musicians such as Sting, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr, Tom Waits and Keith Richards. He also co-produced albums by Lou Reed, with whom he established a close friendship.
After his tribute albums, however, Willner is arguably most famous for his work on NBC's long-running variety show Saturday Night Live, where he oversaw all music used in skits since 1980. This included many of the show's most iconic skits, such as the iconic 2006 debut of The Lonely Island troupe's "Dick in a Box" as well as the music played by Adam Sandler's recurring character of Opera Man, The Forward reported.
Willner is survived by his wife, former Rolling Stone writer Shiela Rogers, and their son Arlo.
Members of the Lonely Island and Adam Sandler, as well as many other icons of the entertainment industry, took to social media to express their condolences at the loss of a man many regarded as a major influence in so many lives.
"One of the most amazing, hilarious, bizarre, creative men I have ever met, Mr. Hal Willner passed today from the virus," Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone said over Twitter. "He was a great friend and such an inspiring person. He will be missed something awful by all who knew him."
"RIP HAL WILLNER. An incredible person who so many of us will miss," Sandler said in a Twitter post. "Love you, pal."
"Hal, I love you. I liked you in my life so much<" Comedian and SNL writer John Mulaney said. "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 with the people you loved."
"Absolutely devastated to get this news about my weird and lovely pal, Hal," actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus tweeted. "We are heartbroken."
"Hal was a part of so much of the music and pop culture comedy we have all enjoyed for years. He was kind and extremely cool," actor Ben Stiller said over Twitter. "So sorry to hear this. Sending love to his family."
In an episode of The Tonight Show, host Jimmy Fallon paid tribute to Willner.
"I think at this point everyone either knows someone who knows someone who has COVID-19, or knows someone who has had it and beat it. Or knows someone who's had it and passed away," Fallon said. "Sadly, today was my first passing."
Calling him a creative genius, Fallon, who was on SNL for eight years, said "I loved him so much. Everyone loved him. We will miss him so much. My thoughts go to his family.
"Everyone just take care of each other and stay safe. We're gonna get through this together. Let's talk and help each other out whenever we can."
Taking to Facebook, musician Elvis Costello posted a heartfelt tribute to Willner's passing.
"Words are a very poor carriage for the way I am feeling today at the sudden passing of my dear friend, Hal Willner," he said.
"Nobody could put themselves to the front of a line of Hal’s many friends but Diana and I are only comforted by the thought that his wife, Sheila Rogers and their son, Arlo must know of the depth and breadth of love that people have for Hal."
In the post, Costello recounted some of his memories of Willner and took the time to praise his skills as a record producer.
"Listeners are sometimes confused by the role of a record producer, as many of the most successful or infamous producers apply their own vision to the music like a veneer or lens through which the original intentions may be only dimly perceived," he said.
"Hal’s approach better resembled the beautiful chaos of a childhood chemistry set, in which all of the substances and elements were mixed with joyous but determined abandon to render colored smoke, a delightful explosion or something of unlikely and uncommon beauty.
"'Condolences' seems a word of insufficient depth for the way many of us feel today but we must not be selfish or feel alone but rather look to the light and imagination with which we will perhaps emerge from this dark and melancholy hour. I send my love and that of my wife, Diana with a wish for every possible strength to Sheila and Arlo," he concluded, adding a link to a song recorded in 1995 for one of Willner's tribute albums.