Peter Allen (musician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Peter Allen
Allen (seated) and Chris Bell as the Allen Brothers, 1967
Allen (seated) and Chris Bell as the Allen Brothers, 1967
Background information
Birth namePeter Richard Woolnough
Born(1944-02-10)10 February 1944
Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia
Died18 June 1992(1992-06-18) (aged 48)
San Diego, California, U.S.
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • entertainer
InstrumentsVocals, piano
Years active1963–1992
LabelsMetromedia, A&M Records, Arista, RCA Victor
Associated actsThe Allen Brothers

Peter Allen (born Peter Richard Woolnough; 10 February 1944 – 18 June 1992) was an Australian singer-songwriter, musician and entertainer, known for his flamboyant stage persona, boundless energy, and lavish costumes. His songs were made popular by many recording artists, including Elkie Brooks, Melissa Manchester and Olivia Newton-John, with one, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" by Christopher Cross, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1981. In addition to recording many albums, he enjoyed a cabaret and concert career, including appearances at the Radio City Music Hall riding a camel. His patriotic song "I Still Call Australia Home", has been used extensively in advertising campaigns, and was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2013.[1]

Allen was the first husband of Liza Minnelli. They married in 1967, separated in 1969 and were divorced in 1974.[2] He had a long-term partner, model Gregory Connell (1949-1984). They were together from 1974 until Connell's death in 1984.[3] Peter and Greg died from AIDS-related illnesses eight years apart, with Allen becoming one of the first well-known Australians to die from AIDS. Allen remained ambiguous about his sexuality in that he did not pretend to be straight after divorcing Minnelli, but never publicly came out as gay either.[4] Despite Allen's outgoing persona, he was an intensely private man who shared little about his personal life even with those close to him. Few of his friends knew he had HIV/AIDS until his final days, partly in fear of alienating his conservative, heterosexual fans and thinking audiences would not want to see a performer they knew was sick.[4][5] In 1998, a musical about his life, The Boy from Oz debuted in Australia. It ran on Broadway and earned Hugh Jackman a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Early life[edit]

Allen was born Peter Richard Woolnough to Richard, a soldier and later a grocer, and Marion Woolnough in Tenterfield, New South Wales, a small Australian country town where his grandfather, George Woolnough, worked as a saddler. He had one sibling, a younger sister named Lynne. Peter grew up in nearby Armidale, and lived there from about six weeks of age until the age of 14. This is also where he first learned piano and dance. His father Richard became a violent alcoholic after returning from World War II.[6] He committed suicide by gunshot when Peter was 14.[7] George never understood or got over this devastating event. Soon after this the family moved to Lismore to live. This tale is told in the song "Tenterfield Saddler".

He began his performing career with Chris Bell as one of the Allen Brothers, who were a popular cabaret and television act in the early 1960s in Australia. He began performing as "Peter Allen" around the same time. In 1964, Mark Herron, the husband of Judy Garland, discovered the Allen Brothers while they were performing in Hong Kong. They became Judy Garland's opening act when she toured. Charmed by Peter, Judy served as matchmaker between him and her daughter, Liza Minnelli. The Allen Brothers act broke up in 1970.[8]


Allen commenced releasing solo recordings in 1971, but throughout his career achieved greater success through his songs being recorded by others. He scored his biggest success with the song "I Honestly Love You", which he co-wrote with Jeff Barry and which became a major hit in 1974 for Olivia Newton-John. Her single reached number one in the United States and Canada and won two Grammy Awards, for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Newton-John. Allen also co-wrote "Don't Cry Out Loud" with Carole Bayer Sager, popularized by Melissa Manchester in 1978, and "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love", also co-written with Bayer Sager and popularized by Rita Coolidge in 1979. One of his signature songs, "I Go to Rio", co-written with Adrienne Anderson, was popularized in America by the group Pablo Cruise.

In 1976, Allen released an album, Taught by Experts, which reached number one in Australia, along with the number one single "I Go to Rio" and the Top 10 hit "The More I See You". The album also included the song "Quiet Please, There's A Lady On Stage" which was recorded by many artists including Jack Jones and Dusty Springfield. Although his recording career in the US never progressed, he performed in Atlantic City and at Carnegie Hall. He had three extended sold-out engagements at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, where he became the first male dancer to dance with The Rockettes and rode a camel during "I Go to Rio".[9] This performance was broadcast live and exclusively on subscription television service WHT The Movie Network.[10]

Allen's most successful album was Bi-Coastal (1980), produced by David Foster and featuring the single "Fly Away", which in 1981 became his only US chart single, reaching No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100. In addition, Allen co-wrote the Patti LaBelle hit "I Don't Go Shopping", which reached the top 30 on the R&B chart in 1980.

Allen co-wrote the song "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" with Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Christopher Cross, for the 1981 film Arthur. The song reached number one in the US and the songwriters won an Academy Award for Best Song. One lyric for the song, "If you get caught between the moon and New York City", was adapted from an earlier song that he and Bayer Sager co-wrote. Allen and Bayer Sager also co-wrote "You and Me (We Wanted It All)", which was recorded by Frank Sinatra. A video of Sinatra singing the song at Carnegie Hall was included as part of the Sinatra: New York package, released in late 2009.

Allen performed on Australian television for many important occasions; in front of Queen Elizabeth II in 1980 at the Sydney Opera House, before Prince Charles and Princess Diana, once in Melbourne and again in Sydney in 1981, at the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1983, where he unveiled for the first time his Australian "Flag" shirt, and the 1980 VFL Grand Final in Melbourne. His "Up in One Concert" of 1980 was a big ratings success across the country. When Australia won the America's Cup in 1983, he flew to Perth to sing before an audience of 100,000. In 1988, he opened for Frank Sinatra at Sanctuary Cove, Queensland. In America, he appeared at the 30th anniversary of Disneyland. He returned to recording on Arista with an album entitled Not the Boy Next Door (1983). In 1990, he recorded his final album on RCA Victor, Making Every Moment Count, which featured Melissa Manchester and Harry Connick Jr. The song "Making Every Moment Count", a duet with Manchester, was co-written by Seth Swirsky, who also produced a number of songs he co-wrote with Allen, including Allen's last-released single, "Tonight You Made My Day".

One of his songs, '"I Still Call Australia Home", became popular through its use in television commercials, initially for National Panasonic and, since 1987, for Qantas Airways.[11][12]


He made his Broadway debut on 12 January 1971, in Soon, a rock opera that opened at the Ritz Theatre and ran for three performances. He starred in his own one-man revue on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre, Up in One: More Than a Concert (1979), which ran for 46 performances.[citation needed]

Allen recorded a live album called Captured Live at Carnegie Hall where songs from his musical Legs Diamond, were previewed. Legs Diamond opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on 26 December 1988, with a book co-written by Harvey Fierstein. The musical ran for 64 performances and 72 previews. After Legs Diamond closed he returned to concert work, touring with Bernadette Peters during the summer of 1989.[13] Peter and Bernadette also performed in the early 1980s on the Academy Award broadcast in an extended musical tribute to Irving Berlin.

Other work[edit]

  • He appeared in a cameo role in the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978).
  • His live version of "Everything Old is New Again" can be heard on the soundtrack of the film All That Jazz (1979).
  • He was the musical guest at Miss Universe 1981.[14]
  • He appeared in the 1982 television version of The Pirates of Penzance (as the Pirate King).
  • He appeared as the "man in studio" in the TV series Miami Vice's second-season premiere episode "The Prodigal Son".
  • He also did a pilot for a new Name That Tune show in 1990, and the pilot for what became CBS's short-lived prime-time game show The Hollywood Game (both projects were produced by Marty Pasetta). He died the day the series, which ended up being hosted by Bob Goen due to Allen's illness, debuted. (citation: The Boy from Oz by Stephen MacLean, 1996)
  • He appears at the start of the music video for John Farnham's 1988 hit "Two Strong Hearts".

Personal life[edit]

Allen married Liza Minnelli in 1967; they were divorced in 1974.[9]

He became more comfortable with his homosexuality in the early 1970s. In 1974, Peter met Gregory Connell through a mutual friend in New York City. According to Allen's biographer Stephen MacLean, Greg was "Peter's big love".[15] Connell, a fashion model originally from Texas, attracted major clients such as Coca-Cola and did other lucrative print ads.[16] After they got together, Greg gave up his modeling career to support Peter's music career by becoming his lighting and staging director and tour manager. He also sang backup on Allen's 1976 song, "I Go to Rio".[17] [18] Connell died from an AIDS-related illness on 11 September 1984, at their home in Leucadia, California.[19] Though Peter wrote "Once Before I Go" for good friend Ann-Margret to perform at her concerts, it was the song he related most to Greg, especially the lyrics, "You are the light that shines on me, You always were and you'll always be,"[20] since he worked behind the lights at all of Allen's shows.[21] After Greg's death, Peter poured himself even more into his work. He spent several years getting his musical Legs Diamond on Broadway (it premiered in 1988), recorded his final album Making Every Moment Count in 1990, and continued performing in concerts and doing AIDS benefits until his death in 1992 at the age of 48.[22]

On 26 November 2005, an extension of the Tenterfield Library was opened and named the "George Woolnough Wing", named after Peter's paternal grandfather who was memorialized in his song, "Tenterfield Saddler".[23]

Death and legacy[edit]

Allen's last performance was on 26 January 1992, in Sydney. He spent his final days in Leucadia, CA, in the same house where Greg died eight years earlier.[24] He died at Mercy Hospital San Diego, California, on 18 June 1992, from an AIDS-related throat cancer.[25] He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered off the coast of California.[26]

A documentary titled The Boy from Oz about Allen was produced after his death, featuring clips from his performances as well as interviews with performers who worked with him.[27]

A stage musical based on his life, also titled The Boy from Oz, opened in Australia in 1998. Using his largely autobiographical songs, the production starred Todd McKenney as Allen and Christina Amphlett of the rock group Divinyls as Judy Garland. In 2003, the musical opened on Broadway, becoming the first Australian musical ever to be performed there. In this production Allen was played by Hugh Jackman, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal in 2004. Jackman performed this role again two years later when the show toured large arenas in Australia under the title The Boy from Oz: Arena Spectacular. A TV mini series, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door, was broadcast in Australia in 2015 with Joel Jackson playing the adult Allen and Ky Baldwin playing him as a youth. Supporting roles were played by Rebecca Gibney as Marion Woolnough (Allen's mother), Sarah West as Liza Minnelli and Sigrid Thornton as Judy Garland.[28]

Allen was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1993.[29]

In popular culture[edit]

During the closing few moments of the final episode of The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder, during a video/photo montage, Allen's "Once Before I Go" played in the background

In the 1979 film All That Jazz, Allen's live rendition of "Everything Old Is New Again" is danced to by Ann Reinking and Erzebet Foldi for Roy Scheider's character Joe Gideon based on dancer Bob Fosse.

Hugh Jackman's performance of Allen's "Once Before I Go" (from The Boy from Oz) was featured in a montage dedicated to Alex Trebek in his final episode of Jeopardy which aired on January 8th, 2021, two months after Trebek's death. [30]


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak chart positions
1971 Peter Allen
1972 Tenterfield Saddler
  • Label: Metromedia
1974 Continental American 87[B]
1976 Taught by Experts
  • Label: A&M
1979 I Could Have Been a Sailor
  • Label: A&M
69 171
1980 Bi-Coastal
  • Label: A&M
55 123
1983 Not the Boy Next Door 36 170
1990 Making Every Moment Count

Live albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak chart positions
1977 It Is Time for Peter Allen
  • Label: A&M
1985 Captured Live at Carnegie Hall
  • Label: Arista Records

Compilation albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak chart positions
1982 The Very Best of Peter Allen / The Best
  • Label: A&M
1992 The Very Best of Peter Allen: The Boy from Down Under
  • Label: A&M
1993 At His Best
  • Label: A&M
1998 Singer-Songwriter: The Anthology
  • Label: A&M
2001 20th Century Masters: The Best of Peter Allen
  • Label: A&M
2006 The Ultimate Peter Allen 18[C]


Year Single Peak chart positions Album

1971 "Honest Queen" Peter Allen
1972 "Just Ask Me I've Been There" Tenterfield Saddler
"Tenterfield Saddler" 53 [D]
1975 "I Honestly Love You" Continental American
"She Loves to Hear the Music" Taught by Experts
1976 "The More I See You" 80 108 40
"I Go to Rio" 1 22 27 30
1977 "The More I See You" (re-release) 10
1978 "Don't Cry Out Loud" I Could Have Been a Sailor
1979 "Don't Wish Too Hard"
"I Could Have Been a Sailor"
1980 "I Still Call Australia Home" 60 [E] Bi-Coastal
"Bi-Coastal" 78
1981 "Fly Away" 55 45
"One Step Over the Borderline"
1983 "Not the Boy Next Door" 76 Not the Boy Next Door
"You Haven't Heard the Last of Me" 15
"Once Before I Go" 26
1984 "You and Me (We Wanted It All)" 41


  1. ^ The album Tenterfield Saddler did not chart in Australia until January 1980.
  2. ^ The album Continental American did not chart in Australia until October 1977.
  3. ^ The album The Ultimate Peter Allen reached its peak position in Australia in September 2015.
  4. ^ The single "Tenterfield Saddler" reached its peak position in Australia in September 2015.
  5. ^ The single "I Still Call Australia Home" reached its peak position in Australia in September 2015.


  1. ^ "The complete list". National Film and Sound Archive. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  2. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format ISBN 9781760301484[page needed]
  3. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016; EPUB format 9781760301484
  4. ^ a b " 'The Boy from Oz' Celebrates Allen". Today. Associated Press. 17 October 2003. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  5. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  6. ^ "Service Record". Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  7. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  8. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  9. ^ a b He then became a Goodwill Ambassador for Radio City Music Hall. Peter Allen, accessed 2 December 2008
  10. ^ Wometco Home Theater/Peter Allen and the Rockettes TV Commercial on YouTube
  11. ^ Duncan Macleod. "Qantas I Still Call Australia Home". The Inspiration Room Daily. Retrieved 2 July 2009.
  12. ^ McIntyre, Paul. "It's all aboard for a Qantas jumbo", The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 2004
  13. ^ Cudd, Bruce."Remembering Peter Allen" Archived 7 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine,, 2003
  14. ^ "Miss Universe 1981 Judges & Guest stars". Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  15. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  16. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  17. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  18. ^ "Taught By Experts" LP back cover.
  19. ^ Lucy E. Cross. "Peter Allen". Masterworks Broadway. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  20. ^ "Once Before I Go Lyrics". Stands4 LLC, 2020. Web. 13 October 2020.
  21. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  22. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  23. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  24. ^ MacLean, Stephen. Peter Allen: The Boy from Oz. Sydney: Momentum Pan Australia, 2016.; EPUB format 9781760301484
  25. ^ Lambert, Bruce (19 June 1992). "Peter Allen, Concert Entertainer And Songwriter, Is Dead at 48". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Mills, David (20 December 2020). "A Grave Tourist Spot". The Sunday Telegraph.
  27. ^ The Boy From Oz listing, accessed 2 December 2008
  28. ^ "Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door". Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  29. ^ "Winners by Award: Hall of Fame". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  30. ^ "Sentimental video tribute closes Trebek's final "Jeopardy!"". AP NEWS. 9 January 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  31. ^ a b c David Kent (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  32. ^ "Peter Allen – Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  33. ^ "Discography Peter Allen". Hung Medien. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  34. ^ David Kent (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  35. ^ a b "Peter Allen – Chart history". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  36. ^ "Peter Allen New Zealand Singles". Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  37. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Peter Allen search results". Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  38. ^ "Peter Allen Belgian Singles". ULTRATOP & Hung Medien / Retrieved 3 September 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]