Famous for being a long-term weather person on NBC’s “Today Show” and for being McDonalds original Ronald McDonald clown, Willard Scott, at age 87, passed away at his home in Delaplane, Virginia. His wife, Paris Keena Scott, said he died after suffering from a brief illness, but did not elaborate on what the illness was.
In 1980, NBC television hired Scott for the Today Show to compete against ABC Television’s Good Morning America. Known more as a court jester for the morning news show than a meteorologist, Scott would dress up in flashy outfits, wish 100+ year olds happy birthdays, and occasionally discuss the weather before tossing the broadcast to local affiliates for more weather information.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion from American University, Scott paired off with a classmate, Ed Walker, to host a comedic radio show known as the “Joy Boys” on WRC-AM from 1955 to 1972 and on WWDC-AM from 1972 to 1974.
In addition to his radio program, Scott played the star of “Bozo the Clown” on WRC-TV, from 1952 to 1962. That inspired McDonald’s to tap him to serve as a clown for their television advertising campaign. As a result of that, Scott became the first Ronald McDonald character on TV.
Beyond playing a clown, Willard Scott started to report the weather for WRC-TV in 1967. On WRC-TV, he used different stunts and antics to get attention from his audience, including dressing up as a groundhog for Ground Hog’s day. Scott had no background in science nor any interest in the science itself; in an interview, he had said anyone can tell the weather if they “have the telephone number to the National Weather Service.”
To make way for Scott, NBC fired meteorologist Rob Ryan. Ryan, who had a bachelor’s degree in physics and a masters in atmospheric science, was replaced by Scott to help boost ratings against Good Morning America. Joined with the team of John Palmer, Bryant Gumbel, and Jane Pauley, the morning show catapulted to first place in the ratings for the time slot.
In 1996, Scott stepped into retirement and was replaced by weather person Al Roker. Scott would fill-in for Roker from time to time, but officially retired from The Today Show and television in general in 2015, ending a 35-year career with the morning news and entertainment show.