“Saturday Night Live” stars of past and present came together to close out the show’s first-ever “at home” edition with a stirring tribute to legendary sketch music producer Hal Willner.
The “SNL” veteran, who had scored the late-night comedy series since the early 1980s, died on Monday at age 64 with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 after being ill for weeks, though he was never officially diagnosed with the disease caused by the coronavirus.
For the most part, the show focused on bringing the laughs ― albeit remotely ― with de facto host Tom Hanks and its current cast. But it ended on a solemn note with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Adam Sandler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Kennan Thompson, Pete Davidson and more reuniting virtually to honor Willner’s memory.
McKinnon kicked off the tribute by explaining how Willner rose to the monumental challenge of scoring the show week after week, calling him the “one of the coolest and most passionate and good-natured people.”
“The music becomes such an integral part of the sketch that you kind of don’t notice it, but without it, it wouldn’t make any sense,” she said. “The guy who scores it only has a few hours — and that guy’s name is Hal Willner, and we lost him this week.”
Sandler added, “We are gonna miss you so damn much,” while others, including Pete Davidson, Fred Armisen and Hader, remembered his inexhaustible well of music knowledge, friendly demeanor and eccentric tastes.
It was only fitting that the performers ultimately pay tribute to Willner in song, with Fey, Rudolph, Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer and more singing the chorus to “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed, who worked with the producer on multiple projects throughout their careers.
“I’ve been through a lot over the past six years … and Hal has always just treated me with open arms warm smile and was always the funniest dude,” an emotional Davidson remarked, while others sang. “I just want to say that he’ll be very well missed and we’re all thinking about you.”
Willner appeared in the video interspersed between various tributes, reflecting on his “SNL” experience over his nearly 40-year gig on the show.
“The live thing is what’s really exciting to me — it’s an amazing gig,” he said. “When it’s all working, there’s nothing like it. I kinda get off on the danger, because it can really fuck up, or ‘This is gonna be so magical.’”
Coldplay frontman Chris Martin served as the musical guest for the show, performing a cover of the Bob Dylan classic “Shelter From the Storm.”
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