by Susan Laufer Casorla

Last Updated 19th March 1999

(When you click on the red/green below you will be taken to a page with more detailed information.)

On the 7th March 1999 I received the following email from Susan Laufer Casorla the auther of the following interview with Paul Williams:

Hi David. Incredible page!! Beautiful actually. I am the publisher of STEPS For Recovery which is a recovery newspaper. STEPS e-mail address


Paul is one of the nicest guys I've ever met, he is also on our Board of Advisors for STEPS Newspaper--Paul Rules!

Please keep up your great work (great idea what you are doing)

Here then is Susan's interview from 1995.

Paul Williams is easily one of the best identified artists of our generation. Not only has he written the hits, "We've Only Just Begun" (click here for the lyrics of this song), "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" (click here for the lyrics of this song), "Rainy Days And Mondays" (click here for the lyrics of this song) and "Evergreen" (click here for the lyrics of this song), he has written themes for many leading shows, movies and has appeared as an actor in everything from "Smokey & The Bandit" to being the voice of The Penguin in the "Batman" TV series.

Lyricist/Songwriter/Actor are his popular categories and he has justifiably been awarded Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes but Counselor/Humanitaran/Nice Guy is what Steps feels are even higher accolades after getting to know him. Currently Paul is back his first love, writing. He has also been doing quite a bit of acting. His recent T.V. appearances include: "Headless Body In Topless Bar", and " ********

Mr. Williams has specifically asked that during this interview that we not name any specific twelve step group in the interest of anonymity.

We began our conversation in a Hollywood restaurant:

PW: ...and I'll have an English muffin, dry.

Steps: Dieting is so fun.

PW: God, at my peak I weighed 187 lbs. 15 lb. more than I weigh today. At that time I was so loaded I didn't know I was fat. I remember looking in the mirror thinking, "You look good Paul...woman are really going to want you, you really look great", you know.

PW: I was a second generation alcoholic for sure. My drinking really started, even when I was a kid we had beer and whatever in the house and I could have a glass of beer when I was really little. But I started drinking alcoholically when I was in my thirties. In my twenties I discovered uppers. Something to control the appetite and give you an increased enthusiasm for living. At about that time I started using cocaine in my early 30's, cocaine was for me...with cocaine I went past self confidence, I mean I went to grandiosity immediately. With cocaine I wanted to go shoot basketball for money, you know? With cocaine, I thought I could do anything! And with what I had chosen as a profession, for some reason the whole thing of wanting to isolate with your drugs was supported with what I did for a living. I could hide and write, you know..it was like, "oh, don't bother him...he can't be an adult, he can't go get his drivers license, he's writing". So I had a lot of built in excuses and as long as I continued to make money, all the people around me were ready to let me continue to keep doing what I was doing..someone should have slapped me and told me that I was drunk and an addict and that I needed some help.

Steps: Well that's a twofold situation. I would imagine to try to intervene on a person with celebrity status would be difficult for the people around them, they could lose their job, your trust, whatever..

PW: And like a lot of alcoholics I surrounded myself with other alcoholics. But ultimately we know that we get sober when we are ready to get sober.

Steps: How much time do you have?

PW: I'll be six this Wednesday, September 22. In 1989, right before my 49th birthday, I don't remember making the call, but I called and made arrangements to go to New Beginnings in Century City. My life at that point was a total wreck. I had left my wife and kids for a woman that I was very much in love with who wouldn't be around the drugs and alcohol. I had quit for her and that lasted 7 months. I actually went to Schick and did the aversion therapy. Every other day they make you vomit. They give you so much booze it makes you sick and you vomit. Then every other day they give you sodium pentathol to see if you still want to drink, and I began to look forward to the sodium pentathol which should have told you I loved being knocked out with a drug. After 7 months I started drinking, I started using, I started lying about it. To hide my drinking and using I became a chronic and habitual liar. I would look you right in the face and swear that I wasn't using when obviously I was. All you had to do was look at my eyes which had a mind of their own and not necessarily coordinated. But eventually she left and the choice was her or the drugs and alcohol, and at that point..

Steps: There was no choice.

PW: Exactly, there was no choice. I was doing an eighth of an ounce of cocaine just to survive-just to get through the day. With an addiction to sleep deprivation on top of everything else... I loved that non ordinary state of being exhausted. I began to have psychotic episodes from the toxicity of the drugs. I had an episode in Arizona at the university where I was performing. I was getting ready to go on stage and all of the sudden I was attacked by someone who wasn't there. I was thrown down escalator stairs, I was thrown higher than my own head against the wall.

Steps: The people around you must have been in shock!

PW: They couldn't believe it. It was like some invisible creature grabbed me and threw me. For 45 minutes I was tortured by someone who wasn't there.

Steps: And for 45 minutes nobody stopped this?

PW: Well they didn't know what to do? Obviously I couldn't go on stage, so they postponed the show. By then I was seeing a shrink, we got the shrink on the phone and he said it was the toxicity.

Steps: From the alcohol or from the..

PW: Actually I wasn't drinking at the time, I was taking antabuse to prove that I could not drink but I was using cocaine at the same time and the combination of the two causes the psychosis. So somewhere in the midst of all this I managed to get on the phone and make an appointment. But I don't remember doing it and where that moment of clarity from...I don't know. It's lost in a black out. I became a blackout drinker towards the end. One of the things that moved me to getting sober was I would wake up in the morning and find a suicide note with a gun lying next to it and have no recollection of writing the note and also have no recall of the emotions that led to it...in other words, I wasn't that depressed. What had happened is that in my drinking, quitting, picking it up again, because it is a progressive disease that my chemical relationship to alcohol had changed. So all of a sudden it had become a massive depressive for me and while I was in a black out I became so depressed that I became suicidal.

Steps: You were alone at this time?

PW: Oh yea, it was just me and my disease.

Steps: And a gun.

PW: and a gun, yes, and the three of us seemed to be married for life, or death...whichever, and it looked like we were headed for death. Somewhere out of that I called a shrink and said get me in a hospital, and my life changed.

Steps: I hear about people who did all these things while they were drinking and using. They travel, they perform, function. I can't imagine performing and having a visible career throughout all of that.

PW: Well by that time, what happened in the 80's I essentially disappeared, I mean the last big movie I did was Ishtar. Oddly enough I'm really proud of that work, I'm proud of those intentionally bad songs that I was asked to write.

Steps: Yes, I read in your bio that was probably one of the hardest job ever...to write intentionally bad songs!

PW: and one of my favorite jobs ever.

Steps: With such an amazing career like yours, with so much to look back on, what is the thing that stands out for you the most? What are you most proud of?

PW: I think in the beginning drugs and alcohol were a way to deal with this amazing paralyzing fear. I was always so afraid of people, I was little...I looked really young , I had a really slow body clock and in junior high when everybody else was starting to shave and deal with all that I was still looking like I belonged in elementary school. I was so terrified of people that I would just pretend to be busy. I wouldn't even stop and talk. If somebody would say, "Hey Paul, come here and talk", I would tap my watch and wave at them like I was off in a hurry someplace. I was just avoiding people. It's interesting that with drugs and alcohol that once I found a way to not feel those feelings a way to totally avoid the fear, then I wanted the attention, then I wanted to deal with the loneliness. I think that's part of why I became an entertainer as well a songwriter and an actor.

Steps: What was it like for you during the times you didn't work?

PW: Well eventually, in the 80's for the most part I stayed home and alphabetized my canned goods, you know (laughs). The blessing of that is that I didn't screw up my career. I didn't do bad jobs, I didn't get hired to do things and then not turn them in...

Steps: You just didn't do...

PW: Right, I just didn't show up. I didn't show up for the meetings so I didn't get the job. It was like, " hey, what happened to Paul Williams?" When I got sober and started to pursue my career again and started writing, a lot of what I heard is that people just thought that I had retired.

Steps: Thank God, as opposed to...

PW: Sure.

Steps: Actually that's ok, were you ok with that?

PW: Yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah...as opposed to, "we wouldn't hire you again for all the money after what you did to us last time!" You know, I didn't have a lot of career amends to make.

Steps: Thankfully.

PW: But what I did have to deal with then once I got sober and faced work, at first I felt like drugs and alcohol were such a big part of my writing that I didn't know if I'd ever write again.

Steps: That's the other thing, with so many people who perform or who are creative in any way, the minute you take drugs and alcohol away...that is their biggest fear! How did you deal with that?

PW: When I was in the hospital I know that 'getting it' had to be monumental for me, it had to be show bizie, it had to be some big thing, I didn't want a little sign from God I wanted a...

Steps: It had to be cataclysmic.

PW: Yea, and I remember praying about that specifically. That I be given some kind of sign of what I needed to see to get it. And I was about to write my first step and right on the heels of that I grabbed a piece of paper to write my first step on and I thought it was a blank piece of paper and I turned it over and it was the 3rd Step prayer. "God, I offer myself to Thee-to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Believe me of the bondage of self.." and then the rest of the 3rd Step prayer. "Relieve me of the bondage of self" was all of the sudden something clicked. I mean I saw that I had been a prisoner. I had been a prisoner of myself, I had been a prisoner of what other people thought of me, my fear of everything.

Steps: So there is no validation even though you are winning awards and all this stuff...

PW: Right, it's just the fear..so I made a deal, if I couldn't write, if I couldn't act, if I couldn't do any of these things sober then I wouldn't do them. Then I would do something else and God would reveal to me what that was supposed to be. You talk about being afraid to leave the house..I remember in sobriety driving around the block of a liquor store a couple of times because I wanted to get a pack of cigarettes, I was afraid to go in and ask for a pack of cigarettes...and I didn't know why.

Steps: Afraid that you would drink?

PW: No, not that I was afraid I'd drink, just afraid to go in and look someone in the face and ask for a pack of cigarettes. Just that fear of people, that's how intense it was. Like, ok...I'm going to go into that market and ask for a quart of milk, why am I having trouble? Why did I drive by the market? I think that people in early sobriety can relate to that. It's just that fear of life, you know?

Steps: Yes, I know the feeling.

PW: ...and basically I decided to devote all of my energy, all of it, to just one thing and that was my recovery. One thing that leapt off the page at me when I read the Big Book was right before The Promises it say's that a spiritual life is not a theory, you have to live it. So how do you live a spiritual life? The instructions I think are clearly in the first three Steps. First of all, we work out who's in charge and it's clearly not me, it's my higher power who I choose to call God. Once we lay down the reigns of trying to run our own life, in that sense, it's a slow process to have the fear replaced with faith.

Steps: ...and sometimes it's not in equal balance of what's being taken away and what's being put back in, I've noticed.

PW: No, no it's not. It takes time to get that balance.

Steps: Right. There is no substitute for just plain time, time to let the process take place.

PW: Exactly. So what I decided to do during that time was to work in recovery. I realized that the safest I ever felt in my life was in the hospital. I loved the camaraderie, the fellowship, the fact that I also had an identity. When I said the words, "My name is Paul, and I'm an alcoholic", for the first time I had a sense that it was the very beginning seed of what to go by, and it just explains so much of who I've bee, to me. And to this day, an alcoholic is not all that I am, but if I hadn't come to terms with that I couldn't have built any of the life that I have today. I wanted to get back into the hospital and at the end of thirty days when I had to leave they told me that the only way to get back in there is to slip or to come here and work.

Steps: What a choice. So you studied?

PW: Yes, I went to U.C.L.A. got my certificate as a drug and alcohol counselor and then I worked first at Brotman as an intern and then I went to Beverly Hills Medical and then at CPC Westwood and worked in dual diagnosis which is a very interesting area to work in.

Steps: Now when you went to work at some of these places, I mean I would think it would be rather bizarre to be in there and have you walk in to help them, these people must have

PW: Yes, I had a couple people think they were hallucinating.

Steps: The reaction must have been quite strange...

PW: Well, some people that have seen me on the tube felt like they sort of knew me, and the other thing was for me to walk in and say, hi my name Paul Williams and I'm an alcoholic, people think, God, this can happen to anybody, you know?

Steps: Right, the equal opportunity disease. You know on the phone I had made the comment to you that you were so nice and you replied that you were not always that way. What were you like? Were you really difficult? Are you difficult now? Do you mind me asking these questions...?

PW: No, no...I think what it was is that I was probably pretty thoughtless at times. I did really grandiose nice things that were guaranteed to get me a lot of attention. I think it was to balance out the fact that I wasn't really there for them. For example with my children, they really were denied the father of their infancy because I wasn't there. I was locked up in my office with my cocaine and the mind drool, these pages and pages of stuff that I was writing that made no sense.

Steps: Writing career stuff, writing music...?

PW: Just writing, ideas, songs, whatever...so by the 80's when my kids were born, I was pretty far gone. So what I would do is I would do something big for my kids, so "he must be a great father", you know?

Steps: The all or nothing syndrome.

PW: Yes and then I was given the Entertainment Father of the Year Award sometime in the early 80's.

Steps: Just what you needed...

PW: It had nothing to do with anything about what I was, but of the fact that they needed someone famous to show up. Instead of showing up for that, I called in sick and the fact is that I was in Nashville, holed up with a lot of drugs and companionship there, you know lower companions. Now I have a chance to make that up.

Steps: How old are they?

PW: My little boy's fourteen, my little girl's about to turn eleven.

Steps: Where are they, do you see them a lot?

PW: They live with their mother in Santa Barbara. I see them a lot.

Steps: That's great because they can still enjoy you in their youth.

PW: Yes, and they've gone to meetings with me, given me cakes. Someone came up to me once and asked why I would bring my children to a meeting. My answer is that I can visibly see my children relax, on some level they know it is a safe environment.

Steps: And that's a two fold issue, because since it is a hereditary disease, it's nice for them to be aware that there is a place to go and that it is safe, and just to see it as it is. And it is safe, I would rather have my kids there with me than some of the places parents take them when they are using...

PW: They certainly sat with me in restaurants while I drank.

Steps: Well, there you go. You know, in the past, I had a few cocktails in the bar of this restaurant.

PW: Oh me too, I've also had a toot in the bathroom at a twelve step meeting. That stopped quickly though.

Steps: I remember leaving a meeting or two to go have a drink. I think I blamed it on the dynamics of that particular meeting or some guy I had a crush on wasn't giving me the attention I thought I deserved, some lame thing...

PW: Oh relationships. I think they are just the little click that we need to say the "it must be alright to drink because my heart is broken" thing. I'm doing psychoanalysis and I had a really interesting comment from my analyst. After about a year and a half I said to my analyst that the thing that scares me the most is the fear that I would never love anybody again the way I loved this one girl, and she said, "Why would you want to?"

Steps: Oh that's great!

PW: "...why don't you have an equal relationship where you love somebody as much as they love you...?"

Steps: Because you got that rush, because it was a fix.

PW: Yeah, yeah...I mean I love being with somebody who I have to redefine myself with constantly to be what they want me to be. That's a good job, you know...what's wrong with you Paul, I mean grow up! But for me it's basically 6th and 7th step work, it's about understanding where my defects of characters come from? Why do I get envious of somebody else who has something. Like I took my kids to see Cats, and the overture started and the audience started applauding like crazy...

Steps: Why do I know what's coming...?

PW: Oh yeah, all of the sudden I felt this demon inside me that's like, "Well my music is as good as Andrew Lloyd Webers'...rah, rah, rah.." That real ugly voice starting in my head. And on the spot I asked God to take it away, to let me have something I haven't had before, let me be a member of this audience, let me feel, and I got that! I mean I enjoyed the show, I cried, you know..."Memories..", and my kids were looking at me like I was nuts.

Steps: But you were able to be in the moment and enjoy it, instead of sitting there brooding. Jealousy can be such a killer of our happiness.

PW: I once heard a guy say that we come into the program superstars and then we work our way into the chorus. I think that is the best description of what has happened in my life. If you watch dancers on stage, I find that what will happen is that eventually I will be drawn to somebody in the chorus who is dancing with this wonderful freedom and enthusiasm. They are not in the spotlight, they are dancing for the joy of dancing and it has caught my attention. I've been drawn to his celebration of life, or of dance and I think that is what goes on in the rooms of these twelve step programs where we can work our way into the chorus to where we don't feel impelled to draw attention to ourselves and we can celebrate the dance.

Steps: That's a wonderful statement. I always wonder about that... so many us come into the program and we all think we're stars and most of us have no basis of reality for that, but with someone where you have some basis of reality, where you have had that kind of recognition, it must be quite difficult.

PW: I think that we all come into the program and we sort of think we're superstars and then...

Steps: But you are.

PW: No, as a matter of fact I'm not. We are all superstars to ourselves based on...God, how can I say this?

Steps: But you do have incredible gifts and have gotten rewards for it and to be able to say "well I'm just like everybody else", when clearly you have some qualities that are above and beyond and I'm not saying that these make you a better person, but in your heart and in your mind and in the soul..to say, "I do have these amazing abilities to create, but I'm just like everybody else". Do you know what I'm saying?

PW: Maybe it's not so much about being just like everybody else but realizing how different and how special everybody is. Robert Mitchum said to me once that if you take the most detestable person in the world and if you spend an afternoon talking with them you will find some reason for them to be alive and a reason to feel empathy for them. And the fact that I've had attention paid to what I do...there are other things...we use a door every day and we don't think of the guy who hung it for us and we don't pay him every time we use it. Perhaps we should. Basically for me I need to be more grateful for everything around me.

Steps: Door royalties?

PW: Yeah, sure...songwriters get paid for every time their work is performed and I've always thought, what about the guys who make doors, you know?

PW: Career wise what are your short term goals, are you thinking about it or are you just thinking about today?

Steps: The quality of your life is much better today?

PW: I'm married, over two years to a young lady who's 5 years sober. Yeah...my life is better on every level. I think the way I would describe it is like the old Christmas tree lights, it used to be that if one light bulb was burnt out, none of them worked?...

Steps: Right...

PW: My life today is like a new string of Christmas lights where if one bulb is burnt out, that's an area of my life that needs work and I can see that. But I have all the others that are shining brightly and I can really look at them and see all those gifts. So I can deal with those problems as they come up, but I don't feel that any of them would push me back into the bottle. There's too much to live for...it makes me cry.

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