Peter Allen (musician)

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Peter Allen
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 active1968–1992
Labels Metromedia, A&M Records, Arista, RCA Victor
Associated acts The 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 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 appearing at the Radio City Music Hall riding a camel. His Australian patriotism 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, with the couple divorcing after seven years of marriage; he later[ when? ] came out as gay. He and his long-term partner died from AIDS-related illnesses eight years apart, with Allen becoming one of the first well-known Australians to die from AIDS. Several years after his death, the musical The Boy from Oz was written about his life. It ran on Broadway and earned Hugh Jackman a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Early life

Allen (seated) and Chris Bell as the Allen Brothers, 1967 Peter Allen and Chris Bell The Allen Brothers 1967.JPG
Allen (seated) and Chris Bell as the Allen Brothers, 1967

Allen was born Peter Richard Woolnough in Tenterfield, New South Wales, a small Australian country town where his grandfather, George Woolnough, worked as a saddler. He grew up in nearby Armidale, where he lived from about 6 weeks of age until the age of 15. This is also where he first learned piano and dance. His father Dick became a violent alcoholic after returning from World War II. [2] He committed suicide by gunshot when Peter was still young. 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. Mark Herron, the husband of Judy Garland, discovered Allen while he was performing in Hong Kong.


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". 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". [3] This performance was broadcast live and exclusively on subscription television service WHT The Movie Network. [4]

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". [5]

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. [6] [7]


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. [8] Peter and Bernadette also performed in the early 1980s on the Academy Award broadcast in an extended musical tribute to Irving Berlin.

Other work

Personal life

On 26 November 2005 an extension of the Tenterfield Library was opened and named the "George Woolnough Wing".

Allen married Liza Minnelli in 1967; they were divorced in 1974. [3]

Becoming more comfortable with his homosexuality from the 1970s to 1984, Allen had a long-time partner, Gregory Connell. Connell was a fashion model from Texas who designed the sound and lighting for Allen's shows and sang backup on his rendition of "I Go to Rio". [10] Connell died from an AIDS-related illness in 1984 at their home in California. [11]

Death and legacy

Allen's last performance was on 26 January 1992 in Sydney. He died in San Diego, California, on 18 June 1992 from an AIDS-related throat cancer. [12] He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea.

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. [13]

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. [14]

During the closing few moments of the final episode of The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder , during a video/photo montage, Peter 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 Bob Fosse.



Studio albums

YearAlbum detailsPeak chart positions
1971Peter Allen
1972 Tenterfield Saddler
  • Label: Metromedia
95 [upper-alpha 1]
1974 Continental American 87 [upper-alpha 2]
1976 Taught by Experts
  • Label: A&M
1979 I Could Have Been a Sailor
  • Label: A&M
1980 Bi-Coastal
  • Label: A&M
1983 Not the Boy Next Door 36170
1990 Making Every Moment Count

Live albums

YearAlbum detailsPeak chart positions
1977 It Is Time for Peter Allen
  • Label: A&M
1985 Captured Live at Carnegie Hall
  • Label: Arista Records

Compilation albums

YearAlbum detailsPeak chart positions
[15] [17]
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
1993At His Best
  • Label: A&M
1998Singer-Songwriter: The Anthology
  • Label: A&M
200120th Century Masters: The Best of Peter Allen
  • Label: A&M
2006 The Ultimate Peter Allen 18 [upper-alpha 3]


YearSinglePeak chart positionsAlbum

1971"Honest Queen"Peter Allen
1972"Just Ask Me I've Been There"Tenterfield Saddler
"Tenterfield Saddler"53 [upper-alpha 4]
1975"I Honestly Love You"Continental American
"She Loves to Hear the Music"Taught by Experts
1976"The More I See You"8010840
"I Go to Rio"1222730
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 [upper-alpha 5] Bi-Coastal
1981"Fly Away"5545
"One Step Over the Borderline"
1983"Not the Boy Next Door"76Not 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.

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"September Song" is an American standard popular song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. It was introduced by Walter Huston in the 1938 Broadway musical production Knickerbocker Holiday. After being used in the 1950 film September Affair, the song has been recorded by numerous singers and instrumentalists. It was also used during screen credits in the British television series May to December, the name of which quotes the opening line of the song.

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Spirit of the Bush is the eleventh studio album released by Australian country musician Lee Kernaghan. The album peaked at number five on the ARIA Charts. The album features seven new recordings including John Schumann’s track, "I Was Only 19 " and Peter Allen’s "Tenterfield Saddler". The album was certified platinum in 2009.

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  1. "The complete list". National Film and Sound Archive . Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  2. Service Record
  3. 1 2 He then became a Goodwill Ambassador for Radio City Music Hall. Peter Allen, accessed 2 December 2008
  4. Wometco Home Theater/Peter Allen and the Rockettes TV Commercial on YouTube
  5. Peter Allen - Topic (11 October 2014), Making Every Moment Count , retrieved 9 January 2017
  6. Duncan Macleod. "Qantas I Still Call Australia Home". The Inspiration Room Daily. Retrieved 2 July 2009.
  7. McIntyre, Paul. "It's all aboard for a Qantas jumbo", The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 2004
  8. Cudd, Bruce."Remembering Peter Allen" Archived 7 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine ,, 2003
  9. "Miss Universe 1981 Judges & Guest stars". Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  10. "Taught By Experts" LP back cover.
  11. Lucy E. Cross. "Peter Allen". Masterworks Broadway . Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  12. Lambert, Bruce (19 June 1992). "Peter Allen, Concert Entertainer And Songwriter, Is Dead at 48". The New York Times .
  13. The Boy From Oz listing, accessed 2 December 2008
  15. 1 2 3 David Kent (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970 - 1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN   0-646-11917-6.
  16. "Peter Allen - Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic . Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  17. "Discography Peter Allen". Hung Medien. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  18. David Kent (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN   0-646-11917-6.
  19. 1 2 "Peter Allen – Chart history - Billboard". Billboard . Prometheus Global Media . Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  20. "Peter Allen New Zealand Singles". Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  21. "Nederlandse Top 40 – Peter Allen search results". Dutch Top 40 . Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  22. "Peter Allen Belgian Singles". ULTRATOP & Hung Medien / Retrieved 3 September 2015.

Further reading