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Paul Williams Still Alive: Documentary Review

Updated on May 11, 2015

A Multitalented Man

Paul Williams appeared on The Tonight Show fifty times.
Paul Williams appeared on The Tonight Show fifty times. | Source
Where Paul Williams has been out of the limelight has been just as fascinating as his fame.
Where Paul Williams has been out of the limelight has been just as fascinating as his fame. | Source

Great Film In Spite of Its Director

Paul Williams Still Alive is very nearly a wonderful documentary that comes close to being undone by its director, Stephen Kessler.

Mr. Kessler’s resume includes directing, producing, and writing credits of TV commercials as well as a couple of feature length movies that, if I told you the titles of, you’d think I was condescending. They were that bad.

Anyhow, Paul Williams Still Alive is Kessler’s tale of his trying to find out what became of his boyhood hero, Williams. Kessler narrates, at times rambling incessantly, and interjects himself on camera so as to become a co-star. What he winds up becoming is a nuisance and a distraction, incessantly whining about various goings on in Williams’ life, trying to create conflict that just wasn’t that big a deal.

The sad thing about Kessler’s buffoonery is that Paul Williams has a magnificent story to tell and the documentary is still very good, despite the distractions.

For the unfamiliar, Williams is a charming, diminutive singer, songwriter and actor whose rose to considerable fame and acclaim in the 1970s and early 1980s.

His songwriting earned him Golden Globe, Grammy and Oscar awards. You may have heard of some of the hundreds of songs and soundtracks from him include: Just an Old Fashioned Love Song, Evergreen, I Won’t Last a Day Without You, Rainy Days and Mondays, and Waking Up Alone.

He also developed quite an acting resume, appearing in many TV shows and movies during his time in the spotlight though, to be fair, his acting performances never garnered anywhere near the critical acclaim of his music career.

As if music and acting weren’t enough, Paul Williams was a popular fixture on TV game and talk shows, most notably, he appeared on The Tonight Show a record fifty times.

Standing five foot two inches tall, with shoulder length blonde hair and large glasses, Williams had a unique look as well as a personality that seemingly lent itself well to being in the spotlight, yet faded from the spotlight in the eighties.

Where he went and what he did was the subject of considerable speculation.

What really happened was that he decided to get his substance abuse problems under control. He got and stayed sober and started another career by becoming a certified addiction counselor, helping others with their addiction problems.

While many see this sort of path as noble and wise, some seem to think that his disappearance from the proverbial spotlight was a kind of fall from grace, and by some, I mean Stephen Kessler.

His career as a director included him directing commercials then moving to feature films then going back to commercials. Somehow, he mentioned the trajectory in the documentary as though it were a fall from grace instead of being grateful for the opportunity to work.

Kessler seemingly transferred this mindset into his opinion of Williams, which nearly undoes the entire documentary until Williams articulates the save (that’s all I’ll mention because we’re approaching spoiler alert territory here).

My misgiving about Kessler aside, Paul Williams Still Alive is a wonderful story about a wonderful man and I highly recommend it.


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