“Some people are such a gift to the world”, Judd Apatow tweeted in tribute. “They just put good things in there and improved our lives.”
Willner started working as a sketch music producer at SNL in 1981. Seinfeld and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who was a member of the SNL cast from 1982 to 1985, paid tribute to Willner on Twitter: “Absolutely devastated to have this news from my strange and adorable boyfriend, Hal. We are heartbroken. “
Paula Pell, SNL writer from 1993 to 2003, tweeted: “Hal Willner was the sweetest genius of SNL. He lamented the artists abandoning strangeness and authenticity, but never gave up looking for them. We love you forever. Fuck this disease and especially its catalysts. “
As a producer, Willner worked on Lou Reed albums (Ecstasy, The Raven, Lulu), which led the couple to become “some kind of best friends,” Willner told The New York Times in 2017. ” [Reed] did not accept that he was going to die. Bowie did it. Leonard [Cohen] fact. Lou just declaimed. He just loved being alive. “
Willner also produced the album Strange Weather for Marianne Faithfull – who was recently hospitalized for symptoms of coronavirus. His work on the record led American star Americana Lucinda Williams to ask Willner to produce his 2007 album, West.
He was also known for his idiosyncratic cover albums. In 1980, he produced Amarcord Nino Rota, an album of jazz covers of Fellini film music, featuring artists such as Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and guitarist Bill Frisell.
Sinéad O’Connor, Sun Ra and His Arkestra, and the replacements played on Stay Awake 1988: various interpretations of music from Disney vintage movies Leonard Cohen, Chuck D, Diamanda Galás, Keith Richard and Charlie Watts were among the stars who played on Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus from 1992, which presented instruments designed and built by the American composer Harry Partch.
Joan Jett, who played on an unpublished T-Rex tribute album, organized by Willner, tweeted that he was a great producer: “The music industry has lost an incredible member of our community.”
He is said to have played a key role in Jeff Buckley’s career, inviting him to a tribute concert in 1991 for Buckley’s father, Tim, who introduced him to the New York music scene that was to launch his career.
In 2017, he told the New York Times that he was concerned that the culture that had defined his life would become less important. “I don’t know what inspires people now,” he said. “Maybe they don’t need to be inspired that way. Do these last two generations have heroes? I’m not sure if they do. Now I’m on Avenue A and I’m listening to what people are talking about, and it’s not culture.
“When John Lennon died, I couldn’t go to work for two days. I wonder if they have anyone they look like – an author, a poet, whatever. These are the people who made us who we are. “