SNL Music Supervisor Hal Willner Dead at 64; Entertainment Industry Mourns the Loss

Hal Willner (r) presenting in 2018

Hal Willner (r) presenting in 2018

Veteran music producer and Saturday Night Live music supervisor Hal Willner has passed away from coronavirus (COVID-19) complications. He was 64 years old.

Willner publicly announced his COVID-19 diagnosis on Saturday, March 28th; a map showing coronavirus diagnoses throughout the United States accompanied this brief text. The following day, in what would be his final social media post, Willner penned a message in support of singer-songwriter John Prine, who was still battling the novel coronavirus (he later died Tuesday evening).

Hal Willner signed on with SNL in 1981 as the sketch music producer. And in addition to maintaining this role for nearly two decades, he produced records for artists including Marianne Faithfull (who has also been hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms, but is in stable condition), Lucinda Williams, and the legendary Lou Reed. Plus, Willner developed a reputation as a leading compiler and organizer of tribute albums.

An array of celebrities, actors, artists, and fans took to social media to celebrate Willner’s life and offer kind words. Better Call Saul star Michael McKean, SNL veteran and film mainstay Adam Sandler, Seinfeld lead Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and the all-time-great Ben Stiller, among many others, remembered Willner on Twitter.

Comedian John Mulaney provided a touching two-message tribute to Hal Willner, which reads, in part: “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.”

Singer-songwriter Bebe Buell, John Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee R.E.M. also published messages honoring Willner.

In recent weeks, the novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of music-industry executives Neil Lasher and Gary Salzman, as well as artists Adam Schlesinger, Joe Diffie, and Bucky Pizzarelli. Pink, Christopher Cross, and Sara Bareilles overcame the disease, as did Universal Music Group (UMG) CEO Lucian Grainge, following a weeks-long hospital stay.

Overnight, New York City coronavirus deaths hit a new high, but the total number of hospital admissions decreased.