Willard Scott, for many years the friendly weatherman on The Today Show, died Saturday at 87 with lows of 83 in the valley.
Scott, who began his career as an NBC page, brought a local, small market charm to network television — one that was not always appreciated by NBC colleague Bryant Gumbel. In 1989, Gumbel torched Scott in a leaked internal memo, suggesting “the guy is killing us and no one’s even trying to reign him in.”
Viewers loved him, however, especially when he wished a big happy birthday to centenarians. He moved to Florida and pulled back to half duty his last years at NBC (Al Roker stepping in as the main weatherman in 1996). When Scott completely retired in 2015, NBC named the plaza outside their mid-town Manhattan Today Show studios at 30 Rock — where Scott frequently chatted on-air with tourists — as Willard Scott Way.
The wiggy weatherman’s other big claim to fame: he was the first Ronald MacDonald clown in the hamburger chain’s TV commercials. A local Washington, D.C. franchise asked him to slip into the big shoes for their MacDonald’s spots from 1963-66. Prior to that, from 1959-’62, Scott had appeared as local kiddie show host Bozo the Clown in the nation’s capitol.
The tall Virginia native also hosted NBC’s coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1987 to 1997. Today host Matt Lauer replaced him in 1998. He also was pressed into duty as Santa Claus for the National Tree-Lighting ceremonies in Washington.
Prior to his television career, Scott teamed with blind partner Ed Walker on the nightly Joy Boys show on NBC radio affiliate in D.C. The character-driven sketch series, which ran from 1955 to 1972, was a local favourite, and, nationally, so was Scott.