Grammy-winning record producer, 'SNL' veteran Hal Willner dead at 64 due to coronavirus complications


Grammy-winning record producer and 40-year Saturday Night Live veteran Hal Willner has died one day after his 64th birthday. While his official cause of death has yet to be announced, sources close to Willner have confirmed to both Rolling Stone and Variety that he passed away due to coronavirus complications.

The news comes just four days after it was reported that one of Willner’s closest and most frequent collaborators, chanteuse Marianne Faithfull, is in a London hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, and nine days after Willner’s last tweet, in which he sent well-wishes to singer-songwriter John Prine, who also died today due to COVID-19. In his previous post on March 28, Willner alluded to a possible positive COVID-19 diagnosis, tweeting a U.S. map of coronavirus outbreaks with the New York area highlighted in red. “In bed on Upper West Side,” he tweeted. “I always wanted to have a number one, but not this.”

Willner was one of the most eclectic and inventive producers in modern music, working with artists like Faithfull, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Henry Rollins, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, as well as being instrumental in launching Jeff Buckley’s career. He was renowned for helming many all-star tribute projects, including Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films (which featured Harry Nilsson, Sinead O’Connor, Bonnie Raitt, the Replacements, Ringo Starr, Michael Stipe, Yma Sumac, and Sun Ra); That's The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (featuring Peter Frampton and John Zorn); Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (featuring Sting and Charlie Haden); and Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus (featuring Chuck D, Leonard Cohen, Dr. John, and Elvis Costello).

Willner also oversaw live tribute albums honoring Tim Buckley, Randy Newman, Shel Silverstein, Bill Withers, and Neil Young. At the time of his death, he was reportedly working on a T. Rex tribute compilation featuring U2 and other artists to be announced.

In 1980, Willner joined Saturday Night Live as the series’ music supervisor; his Twitter bio jokingly read, “So-called music producer & Saturday Night Live sketch music guy since Raging Bull debuted, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ [was] a hit & Kim Kardashian was born. Oy vey.”

As news of Willner’s passing broke Tuesday afternoon, luminaries of both the music and comedy worlds took to social media to express their grief and pay their respects.

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