Paul Williams (songwriter)

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For other musicians of that name, see Paul Williams.
Paul Williams
Paul Williams, ASCAP concert, 2011.jpg
Williams at the 2011 ASCAP concert[1]
Background information
Birth name Paul Hamilton Williams, Jr.
Born (1940-09-19) September 19, 1940 (age 75)
Omaha, Nebraska
United States
Origin Omaha, Nebraska
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • actor
  • writer
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • keyboards
Years active 1960s–present
Labels A&M Records
Associated acts

Paul Hamilton Williams, Jr.[2] (born September 19, 1940)[3][4][5] is an American composer, singer, songwriter and actor. He is perhaps best known for popular songs performed by a number of acts in the 1970s including Three Dog Night's rendition of "An Old Fashioned Love Song", Helen Reddy's "You and Me Against the World", David Bowie's "Fill Your Heart", and the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays", as well as his contributions to films, such as writing the lyrics to the #1 chart-topping "Evergreen", the love theme from A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streisand, for which he won a Grammy for Song of the Year and an Academy Award for Best Original Song; and "Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie. He also wrote the lyrics to the opening theme for The Love Boat, with music previously composed by Charles Fox, which was originally sung by Jack Jones, and later, by Dionne Warwick.

He has also had a variety of high-profile acting roles such as Little Enos Burdette in the action-comedy Smokey and the Bandit (1977), and as the villainous Swan in Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974), which Williams also co-scored, receiving an Oscar nomination in the process. He has worked as well in television, theater, and provided voice-overs for animation.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Omaha, Nebraska,[6] the son of Paul Hamilton Williams, an architectural engineer, and his wife, Bertha Mae (née Burnside), a homemaker.[2] His father died in a car accident in 1953 when Williams was 13 years old, after which Williams grew up living with his aunt.

One of his brothers was John S. Williams, a NASA rocket scientist, who participated in the Mercury and Apollo programs and was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, their highest honor, in 1969.[7] His other brother is Mentor Williams, a songwriter as well who penned Dobie Gray's 1973 hit "Drift Away".

Musical career[edit]

Williams performing in 1974.

Williams began his professional songwriting career with Biff Rose in Los Angeles. The two men first met while working together on a television comedy show. Together they wrote the song "Fill Your Heart" which was recorded by Rose on his first album, The Thorn in Mrs. Roses Side. Soon thereafter Tiny Tim covered it as the B-side of his hit "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" (1968). David Bowie also recorded a faithful version of the song on his album Hunky Dory (1971). Rose and Williams also wrote "I'll Walk Away" (recorded by Rose on his third, eponymous album). Rose was instrumental in getting Williams his break with A&M Records which resulted in Williams working with songwriter Roger Nichols. Williams and Nichols were responsible for a number of successful pop hits from the 1970s, including several hits for Three Dog Night (the aforementioned "An Old Fashioned Love Song", as well as "The Family of Man", and "Out in the Country"), Helen Reddy ("You and Me Against the World"), and the Carpenters, most notably "Rainy Days and Mondays", "I Won't Last a Day Without You", and "We've Only Just Begun", originally a song for a Crocker National Bank television commercial featuring newlyweds, and which has since become a cover-band standard and de rigueur for weddings throughout North America. An early collaboration with Roger Nichols, "Someday Man", was covered by The Monkees (a group for which he auditioned but was not chosen)[8] on a 1969 single, and was the first Monkees' release not published by Screen Gems. He also auditioned for, but was not selected to be, a Mouseketeer. Bobby Sherman also sang "Cried Like a Baby". Anne Murray sang "Talk It Over in the Morning". He also wrote the cantata Wings with music by Michel Colombier.

A frequent cowriter of Williams was musician Kenneth Ascher; their songs together included the popular children's favorite "Rainbow Connection", sung by Jim Henson (as Kermit the Frog) in The Muppet Movie (1979). They also wrote "You And Me Against The World", and it became a Top 10 hit on Billboard for Helen Reddy in 1974. Most recently, Williams collaborated with Scissor Sisters on their second album, Ta-Dah and wrote lyrics for Richard Barone's acclaimed 2010 album Glow.[9] He also wrote for Mort Sahl in the 1960s.[citation needed]

Williams has worked on the music of a number of films, including writing and singing on Phantom of the Paradise (1974) in which he also starred and earned an Oscar nomination for the music, and Bugsy Malone (1976). He contributed lyrics to the Cinderella Liberty song "You're So Nice to Be Around" with music by John Williams, and it earned them an Oscar nomination. Along with Ascher and Rupert Holmes, he wrote the music and lyrics to A Star Is Born (also 1976), with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. The love ballad, "Evergreen", (lyrics by Paul Williams, melody by Barbra Streisand) from the movie A Star Is Born won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy for Song of the Year. He has been nominated on other occasions for an Academy Award.[10] and several Golden Globe Awards.[11]

He wrote the music for a musical production of Happy Days that debuted in 2007 and also made a cameo appearance as an animated version of himself singing "Breathe in the Sunshine" in the hit animated TV series Dexter's Laboratory.[12] He wrote and sang "What Would They Say", the theme song from the made-for-television film The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), a film starring John Travolta alongside Diana Hyland.

In March 2012 it was announced that Williams had "written a couple of tunes" on Random Access Memories, the album of French electronic duo Daft Punk.[13] Williams co-wrote and sang vocals on "Touch" and co-wrote "Beyond". Williams and Nile Rodgers were the only featured artists to speak on behalf of Daft Punk at the 2014 Grammy Awards upon their receipt of the Album of the Year award for Random Access Memories. Williams told an anecdote about his work with Daft Punk: "Back when I was drinking, I would imagine things that weren't there and I'd get frightened. Then I got sober and two robots called and asked me to make an album." He also communicated a "message from the robots" to the audience: "As elegant and as classy as the Grammy has ever been is the moment when we saw those wonderful marriages and Same Love is fantastic. It is the height of fairness and love and the power of love for all people at any time in any combination. Captain Kirk uses the Enterprise. They sail on a ship called Generosity. They are generous in spirit...This is a labor of love and we are all so grateful."[14]

Williams is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame,[15] and his songs have been performed by both pop and country music artists. In April 2009, Williams was elected President and Chairman of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).[16]

Film and television career[edit]

Although predominantly known for his music, Paul Williams has also appeared in films and many television guest spots, such as the Faustian record producer Swan in Brian DePalma's film Phantom of the Paradise (1974)—a rock and roll adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray, for which Williams also wrote the songs—and as Virgil, the genius orangutan in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). On February 9, 1973, Williams made a joke appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in which he sang a song in full make-up as Virgil.[17] He also played Migelito Loveless, Jr. in The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979), a reunion movie featuring the original cast of Wild Wild West television series, and played himself, singing a song to Felix Unger's daughter Edna, in The Odd Couple television series in 1974. He made his film debut as Gunther Fry in the satire The Loved One (1965) .

After appearing on The Muppet Show in 1976, Williams worked closely with Jim Henson's Henson Productions on The Muppet Movie, most specifically on the soundtrack, and even had a cameo in the movie as the piano player in the nightclub (who had a sign on the piano saying "Don't shoot piano player") where Kermit the Frog meets Fozzie Bear. He was also the lyricist for Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.

Williams was hired by TV producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas to write title tracks for two of their ABC comedies, It Takes Two (1982–1983), on which he also co-sang with Crystal Gayle, and Condo (1983), in which Williams' theme was sung by Drake Frye.

Williams has appeared in many minor roles. He provided the voice of The Penguin in Batman: The Animated Series. He appeared on an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger as a radio DJ covering a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. He appeared in 2009 in an episode of Nickelodeon's children's show Yo Gabba Gabba! entitled "Weather", where he performed "Rainbow Connection". He has also appeared on Cartoon Network's Dexter's Laboratory where he played Professor Williams in an episode entitled "Just An Old Fashioned Lab Song".

He made numerous television appearances in the 1970s and 1980s, including on Hawaii Five-O, Match Game '79, Hollywood Squares, The Love Boat, The Hardy Boys, The Fall Guy, and The Gong Show. He has also guest-starred in the Babylon 5 episode "Acts of Sacrifice" (Season 2 Episode 12) as Taq, the aide to Correlilmurzon, an alien ambassador whose species finalizes treaties and agreements by having sex with the other signees. In a bit of subtle irony, Williams also appeared in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Virtuoso" as the leader of a planet that has never heard music before. Williams appeared on an episode of Picket Fences as the brother of the just deceased Ginny Weedon (Zelda Rubinstein). While eulogising Ginny, he sings a small part of "Rainbow Connection". He starred as Ferdinand the Bull in a musical half-hour TV production of the same name written by the Sherman Brothers.

In October 1980, Williams was host of the Mickey Mouse Club 25th Anniversary Special on NBC-TV. He stated that he tried out for the show in early 1955 and was turned down. He was a frequent guest and performer on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appears as the man making the phone call at the beginning of the music video for Hank Williams Jr.'s song "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight". In 2014, he appeared on Community[18] as an illegal textbook dealer who declines to purchase a batch of misprinted chemistry textbooks.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Williams has been married three times. He has two children, Sarah and Cole Williams (born 1981), from his first marriage (1971) to Kate Clinton; the marriage ended in divorce.[20] He married Hilda Keenan Wynn[21] (born January 15, 1955), daughter of actor Keenan Wynn in 1993; they are now divorced. He is now married to writer Mariana Williams.

In September 2011, director Stephen Kessler's documentary Paul Williams Still Alive premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Williams struggled with alcohol and substance abuse during the 1970s—'80s.[22] Sober since 1990, Williams has been active in the field of recovery from addictions and became a Certified Drug Rehabilitation Counselor through UCLA. In 2014, he co-authored Gratitude and Trust: Recovery is Not Just for Addicts, with Tracey Jackson.[23]



Cinema songs[edit]

  • "Where Do I Go From Here" (composed and performed by Williams for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) (1974)
  • "Evergreen (Love Song from A Star Is Born)" (lyrics written by Williams, Academy and Golden Globe winner for Best Original Song) (1976)
  • "Rainbow Connection" (co-composed by Williams for The Muppet Movie) (1979)
  • "Flying Dreams" (co-composed with Jerry Goldsmith and performed by Williams for The Secret of N.I.M.H) (1982)
  • "Still Alive" (composed and performed by Williams for Paul Williams Still Alive (2011)
  • "I Love You Too Much" (for The Book of Life) (2014)
  • "What Would They Say?" (for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble starring John Travolta & Diana Hyland) (1976)
  • "If We Could Remember" (co-composed with Jerry Goldsmith for The Sum of All Fears) (2002)



  1. ^ Padua, Pat (May 12, 2011). "Pic(s) of the Week: They Write the Songs Edition". Library of Congress – In the Muse: Performing Arts Blog. Retrieved September 30, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Paul Williams Biography (1940–)". Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Paul Williams's biography at Film Reference". Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  4. ^ Ankeny, Jason (September 19, 1940). "Paul Williams's biography at allmusic". Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  5. ^ Paul Williams's "mini biography" at IMDb
  6. ^ "Omaha Nebraska". Retrieved June 3, 2014. 
  7. ^ "National Aeronautics and Space Administration Honor Awards". SP-4012 NASA historical data book: volume IV NASA resources 1969-1978: NASA. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  8. ^ Lurie, Karen (2002). "The Monkees". St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. 
  9. ^ "Richard Barone – Bar/None Records". Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Academy Awards Database". Retrieved February 8, 2008. 
  11. ^ "Golden Globes Database". Retrieved February 8, 2008. 
  12. ^ "". Retrieved March 21, 2013. 
  13. ^ "'The Muppets' songwriter to feature on new Daft Punk album? | News". Nme.Com. March 19, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Daft Punk wins big at Grammy Awards". Retrieved October 3, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Songwriters Hall of Fame Bio". Archived from the original on October 1, 2006. Retrieved February 8, 2008. 
  16. ^ "Songwriter Paul Williams Elected President and Chairman of ASCAP". Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  17. ^ was "Little Enos Burdette" in Smokey and the Bandit.
  18. ^ O'Neal, Sean. "Paul Williams will also be on Community". AV Club Newswire. The AV Club. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  19. ^ Diego, Donald. "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing". Community. Sony Television. 
  20. ^ "Cole Williams (IMDb)". 
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ The arc of Williams life and substance abuse in the 1970s—'80s is detailed in the documentary Paul Williams Still Alive
  23. ^ "Biography: Paul Williams Official". 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Danny DeVito
Actors to portray the Penguin
Succeeded by
David Ogden Stiers (voice only)