If you were a child anywhere in the Western World during the 70s or early 80s, Paul Williams touched your life. Famous to many as the writer of such classics as Kermit the Frog’s hit Rainbow Connection, he also wrote the soundtrack for Bugsy Malone and most of the music for A Star Is Born, for which Evergreen won him an Academy Award. An actor, he guest starred on every show we ever watched, The Love Boat, The Muppet Show, Planet of the Apes and The Odd Couple just to name a few.
Paul Williams: Still Alive, a “what the heck happened to Paul Williams” movie opens this weekend in New York. The film’s endearing funny director, Stephen Kessler, traces every piece of pop culture we remember as a child and it is somehow all connected to Paul Williams. From John Travolta in Boy in a Plastic Bubble (Williams wrote the theme tune) to videos of the Carpenters hits like We’ve Only Just Begun (yes Williams wrote most of their songs), watching this movie was like a wild flashback through the soundtrack of our childhood.
The film begins with the director’s voice over saying “I just assumed he was dead”. When he finds out he is in fact still alive and playing concerts in such glamorous destinations as Winnipeg, Canada, a journey commences to find him and have him agree to tell his life story. Williams shuns the limelight and initially turns down the director. Persistence (two years of following him and emailing him) and the fact that the director felt that his own childhood was influenced by everything amazing Williams did, finally pays off. Williams eventually agrees to let the director, perhaps his biggest fan, tell his story.
William’s life was a wild ride, through ultimate fame (he hosted the Tonight Show 50 times) to his decline in to the dark world of drugs and alcohol. Now 20 years sober, this story is about an incredible recovery. Most of this movie is hilarious, but when it delves beneath the surface to explain why and how Williams slid from being one of the biggest stars of an era to virtual obscurity, it touches your heart. We walked away filled with a warm nostalgia for all things pop culture from our childhood.
Paul Williams: STILL ALIVE. Opens this Friday in New York at the Angelica Theatre. Friday and Saturday night, Paul Williams will be live at the theatre.