NEW YORK — Weatherman Willard Scott, a sunny presence on TV for decades, died Saturday at 87.
Scott was best known for his work on NBC’s “Today” show. He was the main weatherman for the morning program until 1996, when he went into semiretirement and was succeeded by Al Roker.
Scott’s successor broke the news and praised the friendly forecaster.
“We lost Willard Scott (who) passed peacefully at 87 surrounded by family, including his daughters Sally and Mary and his lovely wife, Paris,” Roker tweeted, along with a series of photos of them together. “He was truly my second dad and am where I am today because of his generous spirit. Willard was truly a broadcast icon.”
Scott, a native of Alexandria, Virginia, got his start in radio, co-hosting a show in Washington in 1955. He served in the Coast Guard from 1956-58, then went back to his radio gig. He also hosted a children’s TV program, including playing Washington’s version of Bozo the clown, which led to him playing a character destined to become an American icon.
In 1963, Scott originated the role as “Ronald McDonald, the Hamburger-Happy Clown” in a series of local commercials. Scott claimed he invented the character, while some credited Washington, D.C., McDonald’s franchisee Oscar Goldstein and his ad agency.
Scott played Ronald McDonald from 1963-65, but there would be a bigger gig on his plate. He began appearing as a weatherman on WRC-TV in Washington in 1970, and got the call to “Today” in 1980.
In 1983, a viewer asked Scott to wish her mother a happy 100th birthday. That led to Scott making regular shoutouts to celebrating centenarians. After turning over the main weather duties to Roker in 1996, Scott would appear on “Today” twice a week to offer his birthday greetings.
But for Scott, the highlight of his tenure was meeting Pope John Paul II when “Today” went to the Vatican in 1985.
“The greatest thing we ever did was meet the pope in Rome,” Scott said on a tribute to him on “Today” in 2010. “That was incredible.”
He also did commercials for Smucker’s jams and jellies.
Scott announced his full retirement in 2015, with the show paying tribute to him, and the plaza outside Rockefeller Center named “Willard Scott Way.”
“I am heartbroken that the much loved Willard Scott has passed away,” tweeted Katie Couric, a co-host on “Today” from 1991-2006. “He played such an outsized role in my life & was as warm & loving & generous off camera as he was on. Willard, you didn’t make it to the front of the Smucker’s jar, but you changed so many lives for the better.”
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