Paul Williams Still Alive


Paul Williams, the Still Alive subject of director Stephen Kessler’s documentary, was a man of his leisure-besuited age: an extraordinary songwriter, a soulful—albeit modestly talented—singer, a gifted comic actor, and an epic raconteur. He is also, size-wise, a little man and an unlikely on-camera celebrity. But in the same way that self-deprecation is best worn by high-status, pretty people, grandiosity befits the small-statured, particularly if they’re funny. Johnny Carson loved him, and Williams had the credits to back himself up: As with Jimmy Webb, you could probably sing many of his songs without knowing that he’s the author. He wrote Three Dog Night’s “Old Fashioned Love Song,” the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.” Anne Murray, the Monkees, and even Daft Punk recorded Williams compositions. Over Williams’s “Rainy Days and Mondays,” Kessler admits, “One night, I went online to buy one of his albums, and I discovered something amazing.” What he discovered was that the man he assumed must be the “late” Paul Williams was actually alive and well and 16 years sober. The older Williams gleefully messes with the film’s ending. By screening some humiliating, cocaine-fueled T.V. moments to his subject, Kessler seeks a moment of high emotion, a note of regret for kingdoms lost or whatever. Instead, Williams just stands up and walks away from the table. This is where the arc of Still Alive becomes malformed. By refusing to give Kessler what he needs at that moment, Williams opens a door to something more satisfying.