Paul Williams (songwriter)

Last updated
Paul Williams
Paul Williams, ASCAP concert, 2011.jpg
Williams at the 2011 ASCAP concert [1]
Background information
Birth namePaul Hamilton Williams Jr.
Born (1940-09-19) September 19, 1940 (age 79)
Omaha, Nebraska, United States
Origin Los Angeles, California, United States
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • actor
  • writer
  • Vocals
  • Keyboards
Years active1960s–present
Labels A&M Records, Reprise Records, Portrait Records
Associated acts

Paul Hamilton Williams Jr. [2] (born September 19, 1940) [3] [4] is an American composer, singer, songwriter and actor. He is known for writing and co-writing popular songs performed by a number of acts in the 1970s, including Three Dog Night's "An Old Fashioned Love Song" and "Out in the Country," 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." Williams is also known for his musical contributions to films, including the Oscar-nominated song "Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie , and penning the lyrics to the #1 chart-topping song "Evergreen," the love theme from the Barbra Streisand film A Star Is Born , for which he won a Grammy for Song of the Year and an Academy Award for Best Original Song. He wrote the lyrics to the opening theme for the television show The Love Boat , with music previously composed by Charles Fox, which was originally sung by Jack Jones and, later, by Dionne Warwick. [5]


Williams had a variety of high-profile acting roles, such as "Little Enos Burdette" in the action-comedy Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and the villainous Swan in Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974), [6] which Williams also co-scored, receiving an Oscar nomination in the process. [7] Since 2009, Williams has been the president and chairman of the American songwriting society ASCAP.

Early life

Williams was born in Omaha, Nebraska, [8] 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. As a result, Williams moved to Long Beach, California, with his family and attended Woodrow Wilson Classical High School.

One of his brothers was John J. 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. [9] His other brother was Mentor Williams, a songwriter as well who penned Dobie Gray's 1973 hit "Drift Away".[ citation needed ]

Musical career

Williams performing in 1974 Paul Williams 1974.JPG
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 [10] ) on a 1969 single, and was the first Monkees' release not published by Screen Gems.[ citation needed ]

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", which became a Top 10 hit on Billboard for Helen Reddy in 1974.

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). Williams also wrote and sang the song "Where Do I Go From Here," which was used in the end credits of the Michael Cimino-directed film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot , which starred Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. 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 [11] and several Golden Globe Awards. [12]

In 1987 he wrote the songs performed by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in the film Ishtar . [13]

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 series Dexter's Laboratory. [14] [ failed verification ] 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.

More recently, Williams wrote music and lyrics of "Silence is Our Song" for Richard Barone's 2010 album Glow [15] and collaborated with Scissor Sisters on their second album, Ta-Dah .

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. [16] He 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." [17]

Williams is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, [18] 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). [19]

In September 2015, Williams, along with bass player Kasim Sulton, led a global virtual songwriting collaboration at [20] The mission was to write the 1st ever crowd-sourced anthem to be performed at's concert and rally on The National Mall on October 4, 2015, headlined by Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow and Joe Walsh among others. [21] The theme of the song was "Celebrate Recovery" and the goal was to reduce the stigma associated with addiction. Williams, Sulton and Dr. Mehmet Oz opened the show and led 10,000 people in a singalong of "Voice Of Change" at the base of the Washington Monument. [22] Sulton also led a singalong of the song on The Dr. Oz Show which quickly went viral. [23]

Film and television career

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. [24] He also played Migelito Loveless, Jr. in The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979), a reunion movie featuring the original cast of the television series The Wild Wild West , and played himself, singing a song to Felix Unger's daughter Edna, on the television series The Odd Couple 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 also composed and performed the theme to the McLean Stevenson sitcom The McLean Stevenson Show in 1976. [25]

Williams also composed, and sang "Flying Dreams" for the animated film The Secret of NIMH .

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 2008 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 , Fantasy Island , The Hardy Boys , The Fall Guy , The Flip Wilson Special, 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 [26] as an illegal textbook dealer who declines to purchase a batch of misprinted chemistry textbooks. [27] Williams appeared in the 2017 film Baby Driver as the Butcher, an arms dealer.

He portrayed the character of Little Enos Burdette in Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), and Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983). He has a recurring role as a former lawyer and information source in 2018's season 2 and 2019’s season 3 of Goliath .

Personal life

Williams has been married three times. He has two children, Sarah and Cole Williams (born 1981), from his first marriage (1971) to Kate Clinton.[ citation needed ] In 1993 he married Hilda Keenan Wynn, [28] daughter of actor Keenan Wynn. He is now married to writer Mariana Williams.[ citation needed ]

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 and 1980s. [29]

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. [30]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Williams among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [31]


Notable songs

TV themes (lyricist)

Notable recordings




Cinema songs



YearTitleLabel Chart [36] Notes
196?Words and Music by Paul WilliamsBig Seven Music Corp.
1970 Someday Man Reprise
1971 Just an Old Fashioned Love Song A&M141
1972 Life Goes On A&M159
1974 Here Comes Inspiration A&M165
1974 A Little Bit of Love A&M95
1975 Ordinary Fool A&M146
1979A Little on the Windy SidePortrait
1981...And Crazy for Loving YouPalD
1997Back to Love Again
2005I'm Going Back There SomedayAIX


1974 Phantom of the Paradise A&M
1976 Bugsy Malone Polydor
1976 A Star Is Born ColumbiaMotion Picture Soundtrack; with Kenny Ascher
1977 One on One: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Warner Bros.Lyrics by Paul Williams, music by Charles Fox; performed by Seals and Crofts
1979 The Muppet Movie: Original Soundtrack Recording Atlanticby Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher
1982 The Secret of NIMH: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack MCAfeatures songs written by Jerry Goldsmith; Paul Williams performs the song "Flying Dreams"


1974The Best of Paul WilliamsA&M
1988Paul WilliamsPickwick
2004"Evergreens: The Best of the A&M Years" (Hip-O Select)



1965 The Loved One Gunther Fry
1966 The Chase Seymour
1970 Watermelon Man
1973 Battle for the Planet of the Apes Virgil
1974 Phantom of the Paradise Swan
1977 Smokey and the Bandit Little Enos
1978 The Cheap Detective
1979 The Muppet Movie the El Sleezo pianist
1979 Stone Cold Dead Julius Kurtz
1979Wild Wild West Revisited
1980 Smokey and the Bandit II Little Enos
1982 Rooster
1983 Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 Little Enos
1984 The Night They Saved Christmas ED, ELF
1987 Frog
1991 The Doors
1994 A Million to Juan
1995 Headless Body in Topless Bar
2002 The Rules of Attraction
2004 The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement Lord Harmony
2007 Georgia Rule
2010 Valentine's Day Romeo Midnight (Narrator)
2011Paul Williams Still Alive
2012 The Ghastly Love of Johnny X
2017 Baby Driver The Butcher
2020 Superman: Red Son Brainiac (voice)

Video games


List of voice performances on television
1991 The Last Halloween GleepTV Short
Timeless Tales from Hallmark FrogbrautenEpisode: "The Steadfast Tin Soldier"
1992 Fish Police Episode: "No Way to Treat a Fillet-dy"
1992-1994 Batman: The Animated Series The Penguin / Oswald Cobblepot 7 Episodes
1992-1993 The Pirates of Dark Water Garen13 Episodes
1993 The Legend of Prince Valiant Grafton Commander / Brother John2 Episodes
The Town Santa Forgot Pomp the Elf Christmas television special
1994-1995 Phantom 2040 Mr. Cairo13 Episodes
1995 Aaahh!!! Real Monsters IzzithEpisode: "Where Have All the Monsters Gone?"
The Tick Mother of InventionEpisode: "Leonardo da Vinci and His Fightin' Genius Time Commandos!"
Captain Planet and the Planeteers KujoEpisode: "Five Ring Panda-Monium"
1998 The New Batman Adventures The Penguin / Oswald Cobblepot4 Episodes
Dexter's Laboratory Professor WilliamsEpisode: "Just an Old Fashioned Lab Song"
Superman: The Animated Series The Penguin / Oswald CobblepotEpisode: "Knight Time"
2015 Adventure Time The HierophantEpisode: "Stakes" Parts 2,3 And 5
2016-2018 Future-Worm! Future Danny2 Episodes
2019 Twelve Forever Captain ElmerEpisode: "Stranger Forever"

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