The gravel-voiced all-rounder paints a picture in glorious detail of a one-off visionary and eccentric who could tell stories better than any book.
“Hal was the wry and soulful and mysterious historical rememberer,” reads a tribute co-authored by Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan. “He specialized in staging strange musical bedfellows like Betty Carter and the Replacements or The Residents backing up Conway Twitty. Oh, the wild seeds of Impresario Hal.”
Waits recalls Willner’s collection of oddities as a trove that would make a museum curator salivate.
“He was drawn equally to the danger of a fiasco and the magical power of illumination that his legendary productions held. Many years ago he bought Jimmy Durante’s piano along with Bela Lugosi’s wristwatch and a headscarf worn by Karen Carpenter,” he recounts on his official website. “Some say he also owned Sarah Bernhardt’s wooden leg.”
Willner died at home in New York City on April 7 after showing symptoms of the coronavirus. He was 64.
Aside from his work at the late-night sketch comedy show, starting back in 1981, Willner produced several scores and soundtracks, and albums for the likes of Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull.
“How did Hal get poets, actors, musicians, performers, directors, magicians, puppeteers, madmen, politicians, pundits, tv, radio and film studios from every era and pocket of the world to accompany him? We can’t tell you,” reads the post on Waits’ website.
Were you to take a cross section of Hal’s heart, he continues, “you would see the rings of a wise old tree. Above all, let’s remember that Hal loved music… and from all appearances it seems very much to have loved him right back big time.”
Read Waits’ tribute here.