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Max Wright (1943–2019), actor played Willie Tanner on “ALF”

by Linnea Crowther

Max Wright was a Tony-nominated actor who was best known for his role as patriarch Willie Tanner on NBC sitcom “ALF.”

Max Wright was a Tony-nominated actor who was best known for his role as patriarch Willie Tanner on NBC sitcom “ALF.” From 1986 to 1990, Wright played straight man to the “alien life form” title character, a puppet operated by Paul Fusco. He had regular roles on other television shows including “Misfits of Science” and “The Norm Show,” and he made notable appearances on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “Friends,” and “Quantum Leap.” His movie roles included “All That Jazz,” “Reds,” and “Grumpier Old Men.” He was nominated for a Tony Award for his 1998 role on Broadway in “Ivanov,” one of several notable stage performances he made. Wright was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1995, though treatments were successful and his disease was in remission until 2019.

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Died: June 26, 2019 (Who else died on June 26?)

Details of death: Died at home in Hermosa Beach, California of lymphoma at the age of 75.

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A challenging role: Though “ALF” made Wright a familiar face across America, it wasn’t a role he loved. He told People magazine in a 2000 interview that by the end of the series, he was “hugely eager to get it over with.” Production of “ALF” was reportedly very slow, due to the technical challenges of working with the puppet — Wright called it “hard work and very grim.” Yet in retrospect, Wright could see what audiences loved about the show: “ALF was funny and full of invention,” he told People. “His movement was so expressive that once I actually could see the puppet blush.”

On returning to the stage after beating lymphoma: “It was electrifying. I came back to life after being on the edge, with a tremendous gusto for the things I love.”

What people said about him: “RIP Max Wright — a hilarious and talented actor. Sad news to hear of his passing. Who will keep ALF in check now?” —Actor and animator Seth MacFarlane

“I grew up watching this show. Thanks for the laughs, Max Wright.” —Blogger Perez Hilton

“Not every actor can share the stage with a puppet and still hold the spotlight. RIP Max Wright.” —Podcaster Glen Lakin

Full obituary: Variety

Birthdate: August 2, 1943 (Who else was born on August 2nd?)

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