The cause of his death has not been confirmed, but a representative told The Hollywood Reporter that Willner had symptoms consistent with coronavirus.
Among his many accomplishments were albums produced for Reed, Faithful, Lucinda Williams and Laurie Anderson, and supervising the music for films such as Gangs of New York and Step Brothers.
He is credited with helping to launch Jeff Buckley’s career, after inviting him to perform at a tribute concert for his father, Tim Buckley, in 1999.
Willner was also known for his uncanny ability to assemble some of music’s greats to create tribute albums, and successfully brought Bonnie Raitt, Sinead O’Connor, The Replacements, Michael Stipe and Ringo Starr together on 1988’s Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films.
SNL writer and comedian Paula Pell wrote: “Hal Willner was the gentlest genius at SNL. He bemoaned artists abandoning weirdness and authenticity but never gave up searching for it. We love you forever. F*** off this disease and especially its enablers.”
Talk-show host and fellow SNL veteran Seth Meyers tweeted: “As unique a person I ever had the fortune to cross paths with.”
“I loved you, hipster. A truly unheralded genius,” wrote comedian Richard Lewis.
“Hal Willner was such an important behind the scenes producer in the poetic, literary world of music,” said actor and singer Michael Des Barres. “He worked with the most advanced and talented composers writers and musicians. His legacy is literally unmatchable. RIP.”
Actor and producer Julia Louis-Dreyfus said: “Absolutely devastated to get this news about my weird and lovely pal, Hal. We are heartbroken. Love, love, love to Sheila and Arlo.”
“I loved Hal,” tweeted SNL writer Chris Kelly. “I truly, truly loved that man. He was such a huge part of my time at SNL, and is such an enormous part of the show in general. (To say the VERY least.) He was kind, generous, insanely positive, and so, so talented. I’m lucky I got to know him.”
Musician Sean Lennon wrote: “Hal Willner R.I.P. All I can say is thanks for everything. Will miss you friend.”