Willard Scott, legendary TODAY show weatherman, dies at 87

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Willard Scott — the legendary TODAY weather forecaster known for his lavish personality and launching the tradition of celebrating fans who have reached the century — passed away this week, TODAY’s Al Roker has confirmed. He was 87 years old.

Scott, who joined TODAY in 1980, is perhaps best known for wishing a happy birthday to fans turning 100, a feature that became hugely popular over the years, with images of centenarians appearing on Smucker’s jam jars as Scott put them on recognized for millions of viewers.

Scott, who began his 65-year career with NBC in 1950 as a page on the affiliate station in Washington, DC, would also make his predictions along the way, surprising locals with his unwavering charm.

“I just love people,” he told The New York Times in 1987. “Many speakers on the talk circuit leave immediately afterwards. I do a lot of smocking. I am like a dog. You just open the door and I go, ‘rrrr, rrrr,’ and then I lick everyone’s face.”

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Born on March 7, 1934, in Alexandria, Virginia, Scott’s broadcasting career began in the 1950s, after graduating from American University in Washington.

In 1955, he began hosting the “Joy Boys” radio show on NBC radio station WRC and remained on the program until it ended in 1974.

In the 1960s, he also hosted children’s television programs and appeared on WRC with a wide variety of characters, including Bozo the Clown, a bygone childhood icon who appeared on radio across the country during the 1960s and 1970s.

Scott also had the distinction of being the first person to play Ronald McDonald, appearing in commercials in the Washington area from 1963.

Scott remained in Washington in the 1970s, becoming the weatherman for NBC’s local Channel 4 station. In March 1980, the network called and he replaced Bob Ryan as a weather forecaster on TODAY. (Ryan then took Scott’s old job and became a meteorologist at WRC.)

No gimmick was too much for Scott. In 1985, he did it again dressed as Boy George while the singer was at the height of his fame. He also dressed up as a giant Cupid on Valentine’s Day, in a barrel on the day taxes were due and a marmot to celebrate Groundhog Day.

However, perhaps his most memorable stunt was dressing up as Brazilian singer and actress Carmen Miranda on a 1983 episode of TODAY to secure a $1,000 donation to the USO. He took some flak for it, but stuck with it.

“People said I was a buffoon to do it,” he told The New York Times in that 1987 interview. “Well, all my life I’ve been a buffoon. That’s my act.”

In 1983, Scott complied with a viewer’s request to wish his mother a happy 100th birthday, starting the tradition of greeting centenarians that continues today.

He dressed up as Santa Claus at the National Tree-Lighting Ceremony in Washington, DC over several years in the 1980s, as well as at multiple White House events. He was co-responsible for NBC’s coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1987 to 1997, and also had a recurring role as the sociable Mr. Poole on the sitcom ‘The Hogan Family’.

The amiable Scott was also once approached by First Lady Barbara Bush during the inauguration parade of her husband, President George HW Bush, in 1989.

“All of a sudden I look around and see this very happy face, race over there, give that face a kiss, race back to (man) George,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I didn’t know you knew Willard Scott.’ I said, ‘I don’t know Willard Scott. I just love that face.'”

“I think people are so attracted to Willard, they just want to be part of his job and that includes first ladies,” former TODAY anchor Katie Couric said of the encounter.

In 1996, Scott partially retired and was replaced by Al Roker on TODAY, although he would fill in for Al for the next 10 years. He officially retired from TV in 2015, capping off a 35-year run with TODAY.

“He’s a friend. He’s literally my second father,” Al said at the time.

Scott resurfaced on TODAY in August 2019 in a video of the show’s cast and crew wishing Al a happy 65th birthday.

“I can’t believe it. My little man is 65 years old,” he said. “Where is the world coming to? Hey, listen, now you can collect Social Security and you’ll make even more money. You’re so lucky. You’re nothing but the best. Who loves you, honey? I do ?”

In 1985, President Reagan awarded Scott a private sector award for public service. He was married to wife Mary Dwyer Scott from 1959 until her death in 2002. They had two children. He leaves behind his wife Paris Keena, whom he married in 2014.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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