Hal Willner, Longtime ‘SNL’ Sketch Music Producer, Dies at 64 With Coronavirus Symptoms

Willner worked on the NBC sketch comedy program since 1981

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Hal Willner, a music producer and longtime sketch songwriter for “Saturday Night Live,” has died at the age of 64, TheWrap has confirmed.

Willner died Tuesday of an illness, according to a representative. No cause of death has been determined, though Willner’s symptoms were consistent with COVID-19.

Willner served as the sketch music producer for “SNL” for nearly two decades, first joining the NBC program in 1981. His Twitter bio poked fun at how long he’d been with the show, describing him as “so-called Music Producer & Saturday Night Live sketch music guy since Raging Bull debuted, Another One Bites the Dust a hit & Kim Kardashian was born. Oy Vey.”

Willner also served as the music coordinator on Lorne Michaels’ short-lived “Sunday Night” musical variety program on NBC. The music-centric program, hosted by Jools Holland and David Sanborn, ran for two seasons on the network between 1988 and 1990.

Beyond television, Willner was known for producing tribute albums such as the Disney album “Stay Awake” in 1988. The compilation, which featured songs from Disney classics like “Bambi” and “Pinocchio,” boasted interpretations from artists including Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Natalie Merchant, Sun Ra, Sinéad O’Connor, James Taylor and Ringo Starr.

His other tribute albums included “Amarcord Nino Rota,” featuring interpretations of the music from Federico Fellini’s films; “That’s the Way I Feel Now” and “Weird Nightmare,” devoted to the jazz composers Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, respectively; “Lost in the Stars” and “September Songs,” both made up of songs by Kurt Weill; and two volumes of “Rogues Gallery,” with “pirate ballads, sea songs and chanteys” performed by the likes of Johnny Depp, Keith Richards, Sting, Bono, Nick Cave, Lou Reed and many more.

He also produced albums for Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, Laurie Anderson and Allen Ginsberg, and more.

In addition, Willner staged a large number of live tribute concerts that were as adventurous and wide-ranging as his albums. They included evenings devoted to Tim Buckley, Edgar Allan Poe, Leonard Cohen (filmed for the movie “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man”), Randy Newman and Harry Smith’s “Anthology of American Folk Music.”