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Willard Scott (1934–2021), longtime Today Show weatherman

by Linnea Crowther

Willard Scott was the weatherman for “The Today Show” from 1980 to 1996, and he was the first actor to play the Ronald McDonald character for McDonald’s.

The Today Show

Scott joined “The Today Show” when its anchors were Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley, delivering the nationwide weather report. In 1983, he began a practice that would become a tradition: wishing a happy birthday to centenarians. Throughout his years at “Today,” Scott brought his quirky sense of humor to the show, with antics including dressing up as Carmen Miranda and kissing a pig on-air. While many viewers loved the way Scott lightened the news broadcast, he also received criticism, including in a leaked memo from anchor Bryant Gumbel, who complained of Scott’s “bad taste.” Scott publicly forgave Gumbel, including kissing him on the cheek on camera. Scott went into semi-retirement in 1996, but he continued to appear on “Today” regularly after Al Roker succeeded him, offering his birthday wishes to centenarians and subbing for Roker until his official retirement in 2015.

Ronald McDonald

Scott was working for WRC-TV in Washington, DC, playing Bozo the Clown, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When McDonald’s launched their now-iconic Ronald McDonald character, Scott had just ended his run as Bozo. He was a natural choice to portray this new clown, and he became Ronald in a series of 1963 TV ads. Scott also claimed he created Ronald McDonald, though other sources say the clown was the brainchild of McDonald’s franchisee Oscar Goldstein and an ad agency.


Scott on his birthday greetings to centenarians

“How did the whole thing get started, the 100-year-old salutes? Well, I’ll tell you, it wasn’t some great, genius idea. It was a mistake, kinda – you know, just one of those throwaways. Back in 1983, somebody sent me a card. I said, ‘That’ll be cute,’ I did it, and now I’m one of the largest clearinghouses for 100-year-olds in the world.” —from a 2012 episode of “You’ve Got”

Tributes to Willard Scott

Full obituary: The New York Times

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