PEOPLE WEEKLY INTERVIEW
WITH PAUL WILLIAMS
21ST DECEMBER 1998
Last Updated 9yh April 1999
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The following is a copy of an interview with Paul Williams which appeared in 'People Weekly' on 21st December 1998. (Thanks to
Sarah for this interview and some of the images. Thanks also to Elaine for the picture of Paul in glasses. This picture was taken by Shooting Stars.)
BACK IN TUNE
by Alex Tresniowski and Irene Zutell
Seventies lyricist Paul Williams lost a decade to booze and drugs, but now clean and sober, he writes hits again.
The night he crawled through the doggy door was the night Paul Williams thought he'd hit rock bottom. He was leaving his home in search of a party--any party--and he didn't want to use the front door, which squeaked, for fear his girlfriend might wake up and stop him for going.
"I had an Oscar on the piano, and a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and here I was sneaking out on all fours," says Williams, 58, the diminutive songwriter who penned such '70s hits as "Rainy Days And Mondays" (click here for the lyrics of this song)and "We've Only Just Begun" (click here for the lyrics of this song) "I was a classic alcoholic at work."
But he had only just begun to realize how low he had gone. In September 1989, high on cocaine and waving a
gun at imaginary enemies, a panicked Williams called his psychiatrist to beg for help. The next day he started
a 28 day stay at a Los Angeles rehab center. "I knew that I had nowhere else to go, that after this was death," he says. "And I haven't had a drink or two since."
Since saying goodbye to "the little devil with the dead eyes, the big glasses, the capped teeth and all that
hair," as he describes his flashy 70s persona, the 5'2 Williams--whose biggest gig in the 80s was writing the soundtrack for the dud "Ishtar"--has dropped some 60 pounds and reinvented himself as a Nashville songsmith.
He recently hit the country music chart with "You're Gone" (click here for the lyrics of this song), a tune he cowrote for the Diamond Rio band, and "Party On," sung by country crooner Neil McCoy.
"I made a deal with myself when I got sober that I would return to writing when I got excited about it, if I ever did," Williams explains. "And now it feels right again."
Williams is also filming a part in the independent movie "Seventh Veil" and earlier this year put in nearly five months as a recovering alcoholic on the CBS soap "The Bold And The Beautiful"
Yet his greatest source of pride is the peace he has made with people he feels he has wronged. Though most of the 80s remain a blur--"It was like this oversized party just swallowed up the decade," he says--Williams sometimes wakes up with a startling memory of some past transgression. Three years ago he called Barbara Streisand--who sang "Evergreen" (click here for the lyrics of this song) for which Williams wrote the lyrics, in the 1976 movie "A Star is Born"--to apologize for some nasty cracks he remembered making about her. "She was wonderful," he says. "She listened to me, and she said it was okay."
Williams has also made amends to Cole, 17, and Sarah, 14, the children he fathered with Katie Clinton and then largely ignored. "I was a total failure as a father," he admits. "I had to
hit bottom before I did anything about it."
Born in Omaha, Williams was only 13 when his own father, architectural engineer Paul, Sr., was killed in an alcohol-related accident (mother Bertha Mae was a homemaker). Determined to be an actor, the younger
Williams spent his 20s filming small parts in movies until, in 1970, a jingle for which he had written the lyrics
ran in a bank commercial. Folk star Karen Carpenter recorded the tune, "We've Only Just Begun" (click here for the lyrics of this song) and it became the first of many Williams' hits.
"Suddenly I had something I was good at," he says. "I was so passionate about it, I just wanted to write and write."
His subsequent fame and his elfin appearance made him a regular on "The Tonight Show," in "Smoky and the Bandit" movies and, it seemed, at every party he could find. "I was out all the time," he remembers. "I was addicted not only to drugs and alcohol but to celebrity.
Somehow, I'm not sure when, I lost my enthusiasm for music." Worse, he spent years getting high in one room of his L.A. home while his children played in another. "I retreated to my office and just stayed there," he laments. "I saw my kids grow up from a window."
But now Williams has grown up too. "He's just the kindest, gentlest soul," says his wife Hildy, 43, a former talent agent who, like her husband of six years, is a recovering alcoholic. Together they split their time between a Cape-Cod-style home in the Hollywood Hills nad hotel suites in Nashville, where he runs a music publishing company.
Williams, a certified rehabilitation counselor, also tours the country giving lectures on substance abuse and revels in chores like tending to two rabbits. "I love cleaning the rabbit cages," he insists.
It's just the kind of uncomplicated pleasure he feels blessed to be able to enjoy. "'Whatever happened to Paul Williams?' It's probably an entertainer's nightmare to be asked that question," he says with an easy grin.
"But for me it's a gift, because I am still around."
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