Paul Williams was one of the entertainment heroes of my youth (along with Ernest Borgnine). The little singer-songwriter was everywhere: awards shows, The Love Boat, The Muppet Movie, Bugsy Malone, etc.
And then, one day, the dude mostly disappeared. I’d see him get a songwriting credit here and there, but for the most part, he seemed to have gone away.
It makes sense that director Stephen Kessler, also a Williams fan, would think he was dead. Upon finding out that Paul Williams was still alive, he set out to meet him, and eventually made this highly enjoyable film, Paul Williams Still Alive. (It’s being released on DVD today, Feb. 5.)
It turns out Paul was fighting some chemical-dependency demons. Also, with the death of variety shows and weekly television shows relying on guest stars (The Love Boat, Fantasy Island), there just weren’t many places for Williams to show his face on the boob tube.
Kessler takes his camera along on a small tour and visits Williams at his house. What makes this movie so much fun is how Williams interacts with Kessler. Sometimes, he’s friendly; sometimes, he’s a little nasty. All in all, he’s a great sport, and shows that he can laugh at himself and take criticism like a champ.
The strange thing about Williams is he almost looks younger as an older man. He certainly doesn’t look his age (72), and that long hair has been replaced by a short, spiky hairdo that looks cool. His singing voice remains distinctive and cuddly. Nobody else sounds like Williams, and nobody ever will.
It’s good to see that Williams is clean and sober, and nice to find that interest in him remains healthy. Hey, this is the guy who wrote “The Rainbow Connection,” “Evergreen” and “We’ve Only Just Begun,” for God’s sake. It’s about time we showed him some respect here in the relatively new millennium.
By the way, if you have never seen Bugsy Malone, the musical gangster movie parody with an all-youth cast including Scott Baio and Jodie Foster, seek out the Blu-ray. It’s an overlooked classic.
Special Features: There’s some additional Paul Williams concert footage, and that’s a good thing, but the disc could’ve used some more stuff.