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'Today' Veteran Willard Scott, Who Delivered Weather With Shtick, Dies At 87

Willard Scott became the <em>Today</em> show's weatherman in 1980.
Willard Scott became the <em>Today</em> show's weatherman in 1980.

Willard Scott never seemed to have much trouble getting work. He narrated shows at Carnegie Hall, he spent a decade hosting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and he appeared in countless commercials — all after he found success as the lovable, oddball weather guy on NBC's Today show. Scott died Saturday at 87.

Al Roker, who announced the death of his former NBC colleague on Instagram, said Scott was surrounded by family when he "passed peacefully."

"We lost a beloved member of our @todayshow family this morning," Roker wrote. "He was truly my second dad and am where I am today because of his generous spirit. Willard was a man of his times, the ultimate broadcaster. There will never be anyone quite like him."

Scott spent practically his whole life in the business. At 16, he got his foot in the door as a page boy at NBC's Washington, D.C., bureau. Three years later, he started co-hosting the Joy Boys radio show, a nightly hodgepodge of comedy bits.

He was the original Ronald McDonald

His goofy act became a staple of local radio and TV. Kids who grew up around Washington in the early '60s knew Scott by another name: Bozo the Clown. Then he landed a role that would become part of the fabric of American popular culture — Scott was the original Ronald McDonald.

In 1967, Scott got his first gig as a local TV weatherman. Thirteen years later, in 1980, then-Today show host Tom Brokaw introduced him to viewers from coast to coast. It wasn't long before his wacky persona won over a national audience.

"Weather can be pretty bland on a day to day basis, and so what you do is to add a little shtick to it," Scott told NPR in 1987. That shtick included playing around with his infamously bad toupee, impersonated pop star Boy George and then, one morning, the ultimate Willard Scott stunt: He delivered the weather dressed up as Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda. Not everyone at NBC was amused.

In 1983, Scott delivered <em>Today</em>'s weather report dressed as Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda.
David Pickoff / AP
In 1983, Scott delivered <em>Today</em>'s weather report dressed as Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda.

Wishing centenarians a 'happy birthday' became his trademark

"There are people up there, who made a lot of money, betting on me to fall on my face and that this whole cornball act would never make it," he told NPR.

But it worked. And even though Scott contrived a lot of his "shtick," his trademark act was actually developed by the folks watching at home. One day in 1983, a viewer wrote in asking Scott to wish his uncle a happy 100th birthday on air. Scott obliged, and more requests flooded in. The birthday wishes became so popular that after Scott left his post delivering Today's weather in 1996, he would still appear twice a week to greet his so-called birthday buddies. He even wrote books about them with his usual sense of humor.

He shared a story about one of his birthday buddies with NPR: "A stock broker had recently tried to sell this man municipal bonds that matured in 20 years. And [he] said, 'Hell,' he said, 'at my age I don't even buy green bananas.' "

Willard Scott may be best known for bringing TV viewers the weather, but what he always delivered was a laugh.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.