Paul Williams Still Alive: The Grammy and Oscar Winner Shares His Top 10 Movie Songs

Paul Williams Still AliveThroughout the '70s and into the first part of the '80s, it was hard to ignore singer/songwriter/actor/sometimes talk show host and best-friend of the Muppets Paul Williams. He won Grammys and even an Oscar for hits he wrote including "We've Only Just Begun,", "Rainy Days on Mondays," "Evergreen," "Just an Old Fashioned Love Song" and "Rainbow Connection." Barbra Streisand, The Carpenters and even Kermit the Frog are among the artists he wrote super-hits for. Below, Paul Williams gives us his top ten movie songs of all time and dishes insight on Stephen Kessler's documentary about him, Paul Williams Still Alive, about his raging ascent and crashing fall and return to form...

Johnny Carson first brought the artist onto the Tonight Show as the swinging '70s were just beginning. He did television, movies, concerts. If there was a group of "It-guys" in that crazy decade, Williams would surely have been a part of that cadre of people at the center of all that spectacle. But as the '80s wore on and into the '90s Paul Williams all but disappeared from the center of it all. Drugs and booze did him in for a while, though he came roaring back though via a less flashy route.

Enter fan and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Stephen Kessler. He had long been a fan of Williams as a teen growing up in Queens, NY and his songs which he described as about "depression, loneliness and alienation," and set out to find Williams and make a documentary. Williams said 'yes' but he was hardly a willing participant, at least initially, as Williams told Movieline. "By the time I decided to go along, he had spent a lot of time and a lot of money. I didn't want to flat out say no and didn't know how to say no." Williams added that he thought there was nothing worse than some older famous guy trying to reach for that last bit of notoriety.

Kessler is very present in the film, which goes against most documentary standards unless you're Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock. With Williams reluctant initially to open up and only providing limited access, the story unfolds interweaving a treasure-trove of '70s pop culture which Paul is at the center and Kessler's desire to get at his core and open up. I'm an actor, I can ignore the camera if I want to. But it's exhausting to try and pretend I don't notice the camera," said Williams. "I didn't want to do that, it seemed ridiculous."

One thing cameras caught and the film surfaces, decades later, is footage of Williams, high, while doing late night talk shows. Now 22 years sober, it's a painful reminder of his past life and he even said during the film that he didn't want his daughter to see that. But he relents and said he hopes it will help others.

"I became a shallow ride and my behavior was totally unacceptable. One of the best things I did was to say to keep that footage in the movie. I think by leaving in you get a sense of how bad it got," he said. "[There is] a sense of real disappointment and leading edge of shame. In a certain context it's hard to watch, but you get a sense that recovery works. You see the yin and yang of the whole deal and you see that now, my life is such a gift. I hope I can make a difference… I love my life. And I'm blown away by the reaction."


Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley, Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Main title theme by Elmer Bernstein, The Man with a Golden Arm (1955)

Lose Yourself by Eminem/Bass/Resto, 8 Mile (2002)

When You Wish Upon a Star by Harline/Washington Pinnochio (1940)

The Man That Got Away by Arlen /Gershwin, A Star is Born (1954)

With a Song in My Heart by Rodgers/Hart, With A Song in my Heart (1954)

Somewhere by Bernstein/Sondheim, West Side Story

Moon River by Mancini/Mercer, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Alfie by Bacharach/David, Alfie (2004)

Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen, Philadelphia (1993)

Born To Be Wild by Dennis Edmonton AKA: Mars Bonfire, Easy Rider (1969)

And what are your favorites?

Paul Williams Still Alive opens in NYC today.

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  • The Cantankerist says:

    He's too modest to include Rainbow Connection in his list so, dammit, I'll do it for him. Few better combinations of melody, chords and lyric in the world.

  • Dimo says:

    I met him a few years ago for about a minute...told him how much I loved his music for Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas. Super nice guy.

  • Natalie says:

    Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen for Philadelphia, he won an Oscar for it. And Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf in Easy Rider. I love Somewhere by Tom Waits.

  • JenniferH says:

    Evergreen is one of the best film songs, too--and yet again, Williams is too modest to mention it.