06/08/2012 08:07 am ET Updated Aug 08, 2012

Reviving Paul Williams

Still alive? Paul Williams seems to be defying time, as it were.

He's president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (otherwise known as ASCAP), in which he fights "to make sure people who created the music that's being played and streamed and everything else are compensated fairly," he says.

He's still a practicing songwriter, continuing work on a stage musical based on the TV show Happy Days with Garry Marshall (aiming for an opening in London's West End in the next year or so).

And he's out on the hustings doing retail film promotion for a documentary, Paul Williams Still Alive, that he initially regretted saying "yes" to, when he was approached by filmmaker Stephen Kessler.

"It's a weird life," Williams says with a chuckle, at an eatery in Mamaroneck, NY, prior to a Q&A session with an audience at the Emelin Theater. "I'm glad now I let that weird guy follow me around for years with a camera."

The film, which opens in limited release today, gives Williams the chance to spread the message of recovery that he hopes the film also celebrates.

"At this point, it's all a gift," he says. "I like to say that my train runs on two rails: gratitude and trust."

The film begins with Kessler, who was a childhood fan of Williams' music and acting, coming across a notice of an appearance by Williams -- whom he had presumed dead. In fact, Williams has fans around the world and still performs on a regular basis. So Kessler set out to make a film about Williams' rollercoaster career -- and ended up, instead, capturing a portrait of Williams as a man who has learned to appreciate his life for what it is.

But Williams made him wait for his initial answer: "He sent me an email and I let it sit there for, like, a year until I got back to him," Williams recalls. "I had my life in a nice place. I had 17 years sober and a nice balance in my life. I didn't want to poke the bear. There's nothing more pathetic than a little old man saying, 'Please, sir, another cup of fame?'"

This interview continues on my website.