The news was confirmed on the show’s official Instagram page: “#WillardScott — the legendary Today weatherman known for his exuberant personality and launching the tradition of celebrating fans who reached the century mark — died this week.”
Scott, who created and portrayed the original Ronald McDonald, died surrounded by his family, according to Today show weatherman Al Roker. Roker took to his own Instagram page writing, “We lost a beloved member of our @todayshow family this morning… He was truly my second dad and am where I am today because of his generous spirit. Willard was a man of his times, the ultimate broadcaster. There will never be anyone quite like him.”
The TV vet made his broadcast debut in 1955 via the daytime variety show Afternoon. In 1959, Scott went on to play Bozo the Clown five days a week. According to his 1983 book The Joy of Living: “When Bozo went off the air, the local McDonald’s people asked me to come up with a new character to take Bozo’s place,” Scott wrote. “So I sat down and created Ronald McDonald.”
He officially joined Today in 1980, when then-NBC News president William Small was looking for ways to beat ABC’s Good Morning America in the ratings. The weatherman joined an on-air team that included Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley.
Scott served as the Today show’s No. 1 weatherman until he stepped aside for Roker in 1996, and headed into semi-retirement. Then, despite announcing his full retirement from the show in December 2015, he continued to appear periodically to wish a Happy Birthday to viewers turning 100+ years old, maintaining a tradition he started in 1983.
Scott is survived by his wife Paris, and two daughters from his first marriage to Mary Dwyer Scott. They were married for 43 years until her death in 2002.