Modern Family surprised fans this week with the episode titled “Legacy” that featured Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) spending one last day with his dad, Frank (Fred Willard). At the end of the episode, it was revealed that Frank had passed away, and star Sarah Hyland – who plays Hailey Dunphy – had no idea she had lost her TV grandpa until she watched the episode.
The episode began with Phil learning that Frank was found wandering through a grocery store alone, which sparked his concern that Frank was possibly suffering from dementia. After he finds out about his dad, Phil spends the day with him in an attempt to figure out what’s going on.
— Modern Family (@ModernFam) January 15, 2020
While giving Frank a haircut, Phil asks what happened at the grocery store, and he also asked his dad if he ever wished he had more kids. Phil says that if he had a sibling, they would have taken over the family business, and Frank wouldn’t have had to sell it. Phil confessed this was something he had always felt bad about.
“The answer is no, Phil, never,” Frank replied. “Well, you did take over the family business, didn’t you? Keeping life light, making it fun for everybody.”
Phil tells his dad that he “learned from the best,” and in his confessional he described what life was like having “the cool dad.” This was a call back to the Modern Family pilot when Phil described himself as being “the cool dad.”
“When I was growing up, he was the cool dad. He knew all the dances from Grease and he knew all the expressions. BFF: best friends forever, TMI: too much Information, BJ: blue jeans. Makes me feel lucky,” said Phil.
He then wrapped up his confessional with the shocking news: “We didn’t do much that day, but it might have been one of the best days I’ve ever had with my dad. I just didn’t know it would be the last.”
After the episode aired, Hyland took to Instagram to tell her followers that she had no idea the shocking twist was coming.
“So, I don’t read scripts of episodes of Modern Family that I’m not in, so I just found out that my grandpa’s dead along with all of you,” Hyland said on her Instagram stories. “I still feel special.”
Hyland’s post actually spoiled the episode for some of her fans, and she immediately apologized for her error. She wrote that she should’ve given a spoiler alert about Grandpa Frank dying, but she was caught off guard by the episode’s ending.
Fred Willard played the role of Frank Dunphy for 14 episodes over 11 seasons. In 2010, he scored an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series. This is the final season of the groundbreaking ABC sitcom – which premiered in 2009 – but not the first character death.
Last season, the show said goodbye to Claire and Mitchell’s mom DeDe, who was played by Shelley Long.
New episodes of Modern Family air Wednesday nights on ABC, and the series finale will air on April 8th.