Pop songwriter, singer, and actor Paul Williams was born September 19, 1940, in Omaha, Nebraska; following his father's 1953 death, he was sent to live with relatives in Long Beach, California, there fostering his growing interests in music and drama by appearing in a series of high-school plays and talent shows. After graduation, the famously diminutive Williams briefly worked as an apprentice jockey before pursuing acting professionally, relocating to Albuquerque, New Mexico to appear in community theater productions of A Thousand Clowns and A Midsummer Night's Dream; he returned to Long Beach in 1960 to join the repertory company Studio 58, earning sufficiently strong critical notice to go to Hollywood. Despite landing a major role in the 1965 satire The Loved One, Williams' early movie career was largely frustrating, and after several years of bit parts he accepted an offer from standup Mort Sahl to write comedy sketch material for local television.
Through Sahl, Williams was introduced to composer Biff Rose, with whom he collaborated on the song "Fill Your Heart," recorded by Tiny Tim as the B-side to his novelty smash "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"; the single's success helped land Williams his own deal with Warner Bros., and he quickly formed the band Holy Mackerel, which issued a self-titled LP in 1968. The record went nowhere, and in 1970, Williams resurfaced as a solo artist with the album Someday Man. It too fared poorly, and he next landed as a staff songwriter at A&M; paired with composer Roger Nichols, he quickly co-authored the hit "Out in the Country" for Three Dog Night. Williams and Nichols were next hired to write theme music for a local bank commercial advertising services for newlyweds; the resulting "We've Only Just Begun" became a blockbuster hit when later covered by the Carpenters, as well as a staple of wedding parties for decades to come.
Williams returned to recording with the 1971 A&M effort Just an Old Fashioned Love Song, the title track becoming a smash for Three Dog Night; in between 1972's Life Goes On and 1974's Here Comes Inspiration, he also earned his first Academy Award nomination, teaming with composer John Williams on "Nice to Be Around" from the film Cinderella Liberty. In 1974, Williams also scored and starred in Brian DePalma's rock musical Phantom of the Paradise, earning a second Academy Award bid for his soundtrack; he finally won the Oscar -- as well as a Grammy and a Golden Globe -- for "Evergreen," the love theme to the 1976 Barbra Streisand film A Star Is Born. By the late '70s, Williams was a true celebrity, known not only for his music but also for regular guest appearances on television programs like The Tonight Show, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island, and occasional film work (including the Smokey and the Bandit series); in 1979, he also appeared in The Muppet Movie, scoring the picture as well and earning Oscar and Grammy nominations in the process.
Williams' profile declined sharply in the decade to follow, however, and as the hits dried up, he concentrated less on music than acting; he also battled longstanding problems with drugs and alcohol, finally defeating his addictions in 1989 (the same year he starred on Broadway in the one-man show Tru as author Truman Capote). Becoming a licensed drug rehabilitation counselor, Williams also began an active involvement with the Musician's Assistance Program, a non-profit organization founded to help music-industry professionals recover from substance abuse problems. He returned to music in 1992 with the Grammy-nominated soundtrack to The Muppet Christmas Carol, and in 1997 issued Back to Love Again, his first new studio LP since 1979's A Little on the Windy Side. The following year, Williams also began a recurring role on the CBS daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful; concurrently, he penned a pair of Nashville hits in Diamond Rio's "You're Gone" and Neal McCoy's "Party On." In 1999, Williams provided music and lyrics for Garry Marshall's musical adaptation of Happy Days; the show ran in England and Australia and was slated to open in Los Angeles in the early part of 2006. Leading up to that date was a steady stream of Williams releases including a 2003 live album called Love Wants to Dance; a greatest-hits collection on Hip-O Select, Evergreen: The Best of the A&M Years; a reissue of the Holy Mackerel record; and, in late 2005, I'm Going Back There Someday, a deluxe CD/DVD package of new live and studio recordings of classic Williams tunes. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi