In "Paul Williams Still Alive," the documentary about the popular 1970s singer/songwriter -- and Johnny Carson cut-up -- Paul Williams, we see the musical icon reveal his life and desires to the lens, pointing to larger truths about the industry and the ways we regularly sabotage ourselves.
You might remember Williams from giant hits like "Rainbow Connection," The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun," and Three Dog Night's "An Old Fashioned Love Song." But the documentary doesn't trace the rise and fall of a star who was once addicted to drugs, alcohol and the spotlight. Instead, it does something far more interesting -- it takes all the uncomfortable and revealing moments of director Stephen Kessler's agenda and lays them bare, showing Williams as a man enjoying his life despite the obstacles.
In a phone interview with The Huffington Post, Williams explained:
"When I look at my life, I see again and again these unexpected riches through something that got broken, but something that wandered in was exactly I needed. This life is not about grabbing hold and controlling it; it's about letting go. Don't stand on the hose."
For the film, Williams wrote "Still Alive," a song about life in the spotlight and the faulty notion that "fame could outrun fear." A few months ago, it was thought to be a contender for Best Original Song at this year's Oscars. Williams explains:
"My favorite line is in the chorus, 'blessed mysteries, for sweeter souls did not survive...' I'm talking Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse -- so many talented people lost to addiction. So I could write very specifically about my life as I saw it in the film."
But, as Stephen Kessler wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post this past December:
"Can the best song really have a chance to win 'Best Song' -- especially if it's in a film whose total budget was slightly less than what it cost to replace broken windows in 'Skyfall?'"
Last night, as expected, Adele won the Oscar for Best Original Song. My thoughts immediately went to Williams. I know in the end he doesn't care about accolades in the same way he once did, but the man is deserving of recognition, whether you think Adele earned the Oscar or not. He's a legend, and his absence was felt last night during the Awards.
At one point during the interview Williams exclaimed: "There's a dolphin outside my window, and a seal! It's beautiful. What were we talking about?" With this cultivated, hard-won innocence, how could you not root for him?
At the end of the interview, Williams told me:
"I don't dabble with alcohol or dabble with drugs, [and] I didn't want to dabble with the camera again. The saddest thing is an old man asking for another cup of fame."
Sometimes, though, he deserves another cup.
Here's the song: