Treat Williams Biography, age, career, spouse, cause of death

Treat Williams Biography

American actor Richard Treat Williams lived from December 1, 1951, until June 12, 2023. He rose to fame with his roles in the 1979 movies Hair and 1941 and is now well-known for his work in theater, film, and television.

He gained notoriety among viewers of television because of his performance as Dr. Andy Brown on The WB’s Everwood (2002–2006). Two Screen Actors Guild Awards, three Golden Globes, a Primetime Emmy, two Satellite Awards, and an Independent Spirit Award are among the honors he has received.

Williams appeared in many films throughout his career, with credits including Prince of the City (1981), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Flashpoint (1984), Smooth Talk (1985), Dead Heat (1988), The Phantom (1996), The Devil’s Own (1997), Deep Rising (1998), the Substitute franchise (1998–2001), The Deep End of the Ocean (1999), Miss Congeniality 2 (2005), and 127 Hours (2010).

Outside of film, Williams starred as Mick O’Brien on Hallmark’s Chesapeake Shores (2016–2022). He received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his work in the television films A Streetcar Named Desire (1984) and The Late Shift (1996), respectively, and had recurring roles on White Collar (2012–2013), Chicago Fire (2013–2018), and Blue Bloods (2016–2023).

On stage, Williams appeared in the lead role of Danny Zuko in the original Broadway run of Grease in 1972. Subsequent theatre credits included Once in a Lifetime (Broadway, 1978), The Pirates of Penzance (Broadway, 1981), Love Letters (off-Broadway, 1989), and the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies. In 2010, Williams authored the children’s book Air Show!

Early life and education

Williams, the son of Marian (née Andrew), an antiques dealer, and Richard Norman Williams, a business executive, was born in Stamford, Connecticut, on December 1, 1951. When he was three years old, his family relocated to Rowayton, Connecticut.

His maternal great-great-great-grandfather was William Henry Barnum, a U.S. senator from Connecticut and third cousin of the showman P. T. Barnum. Williams was a distant relative of both Robert Treat Paine—a signatory to the Declaration of Independence—and Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States.

Williams participated in both high school and collegiate football. He earned degrees from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as well as the Kent School in Connecticut.

He participated in high school and community theater performances as a teen, and in his first year of college, he started to seriously consider a future in acting: “I loved football very much, but I didn’t think you could be a jock and be in the theatre company at the same time…

In my freshman year, I really started to commit to studying everything I could about the acting business. He once appeared simultaneously in “a comedy, a Shakespeare, and a musical” in three collegiate productions.

Career Breakthrough

Williams began his career as an actor in the musical theater, first working as an understudy for a number of the male leads in the Broadway production of Grease and subsequently in a touring version of that show.

He appeared in the Sherman Brothers’ Over Here! musical from March 1974 to January 1975 as Utah opposite John Travolta, Ann Reinking, Marilu Henner, and two of the Andrews Sisters. After that, he spent three years playing Danny Zuko in Grease on Broadway.

I was aware of how big of a deal “Broadway” was because I had learned every West Side Story song as a child. I thought, “I’ve arrived,” when I was given my first tiny dressing room at the Royale Theatre. Here I am. This is amazing!” … Sunday matinees occasionally leave you wondering how you’re going to get through it.

Simply said, I’m not in the mood to visit that bustling location. However, each time I heard that crowd over there, I could sense their excitement. I would exit my dressing room, cross the stage, and then remain still. I could still feel the actors’ and the audience’s enthusiasm pulsing through the air.

—Williams on playing Danny Zuko in Grease, 2019

Williams made his big-screen debut in the 1975 thriller Deadly Hero, when he played a supporting role. He gained praise for his depiction as Michael Brick, a squeaky-voiced private eye, in The Ritz, a ridiculous British comedy based on the play of the same name, the following year. He then made an appearance in a minor role in Michael Caine’s war film The Eagle Has Landed (1976).

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Williams came to worldwide attention in 1979 when he starred as George Berger—a leading member of a gang of flower children—in the Miloš Forman film Hair, based on the 1967 musical.

Writing for the Sioux City Journal, critic Bob Thomas called it “a rare flight of creative imagination that widens the dimensions of the movie musical”, and believed that Williams’ performance “could not be better”.

In her mixed review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote: “As his name might indicate, Treat Williams is one of the better things Hair has to offer … [he is] is the only one of the players who really suggests the spirit of euphoria upon which the original [stage production] meant to capitalize”. Williams’ performance earned him a nomination for the 1980 Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year.

Critical acclaim and awards recognition

Williams made numerous appearances in supporting and main parts in films throughout the following ten years, including the Steven Spielberg comedy 1941 (1979); adventure drama The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper (1981), in which he played the titular aircraft hijacker; the Sergio Leone crime epic Once Upon A Time In America (1984), where he co-starred with Robert De Niro; action-thriller Flashpoint (1984); Peter Medak’s The Men’s Club (1986), in which he co-starred with Harvey Keitel; and the cult horror-comedy Dead Heat (1988).

His portrayal of Daniel Ciello—in Sidney Lumet’s 1981 neo-noir crime drama Prince of the City—brought Williams his second Golden Globe nomination and some of the strongest reviews of his career, with Roger Ebert saying of his “demanding and gruelling” performance: “Williams is almost always onscreen, and almost always in situations of extreme stress, fatigue, and emotional turmoil. We see him coming apart before our eyes”. In a retrospective review of the film published by Empire in 2000, Simon Braud wrote:

It’s doubtful whether a better performance was committed to celluloid in 1981 than Treat Williams’ portrayal of the tortured Danny Ciello. In a staggering feat of acting prowess, Williams essays a fundamentally good, yet deeply flawed, human being disintegrating under intolerable pressure with rare courage and intensity.

During this period, Williams also starred as Stanley Kowalski in the 1984 television adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire—earning his third Golden Globe nomination—and was nominated for the 1985 Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for his portrayal of Arnold Friend—opposite Laura Dern—in that year’s Smooth Talk.

“The [film’s] mood grows progressively darker as Treat Williams, playing a trashy dreamboat, drives up in his LeMans convertible,” Rita Kempley noted in her review of the latter for The Washington Post. Williams is in his best performance since Prince of the City, matching Dern’s breathtaking performance.

Williams played Jack Harold, a divorce lawyer and Susan’s love interest on the CBS comedy Good Advice between 1993 and 1994. Two seasons of the show were produced.

Revived film career, theatre roles, and Everwood

Williams’ film credits throughout the mid-late 1990s included Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995), Mulholland Falls (1996), The Devil’s Own (1997), cult action-horror Deep Rising (1998), and The Deep End of the Ocean (1999), in which he co-starred with Michelle Pfeiffer.

He co-starred in the high-profile comic book adaption The Phantom in 1996. As the wicked Xander Drax, he made every effort to conquer the planet and assassinate Billy Zane’s character, the titular superhero.

The film received mixed reviews, but many critics were impressed by the visuals and performances.

Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert said he found the film “smashingly entertaining”, adding: “Williams … is implacably evil … and also slick and oily in the best pulp tradition”.

That same year, his “messianic” work in The Late Shift—an HBO television film in which he portrayed real-life talent agent Michael Ovitz, starring opposite Kathy Bates—was roundly praised by critics and earned him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor.

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I always just sort of remind people I wasn’t dead during the last six or seven years. I went through seven years of analysis. I got married. I had a child. We found a house in Vermont. We’ve been traveling and living.

I’ve been working … I wouldn’t say the offers are rolling in, I would say they are dribbling in. There is a definite change in attitude. I think ‘he is back’ is the appropriate phrase …

I think in a way your life goes where it needs to go, and maybe I needed to be out of it and to go through what I went through to grow up so I could be the actor that I’m really meant to be — the clear-headed guy that I want to be in my work and not somebody who’s living life in the fast lane … I’m really feeling extremely lucky to have a career that’s turning around, and I just want to enjoy it.

—Williams on personal struggles and the resurgence of his film career, 1995
In 1998, Williams took over the action movie franchise The Substitute, starring as Karl Thomasson—an old ally of the previous film’s Jonathan Shale (played by Tom Berenger)—in The Substitute 2: School’s Out. He continued the role with The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All (1999) and The Substitute: Failure Is Not an Option (2001).

Next, he starred alongside Téa Leoni in the Woody Allen satire Hollywood Ending (2002), with Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times calling Williams’ portrayal of film studio boss Hal Jaeger “frightening and impressive”.

His next major film role was that of egotistical FBI boss Walter Collins in the big-budget action comedy Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005), opposite Sandra Bullock.

Williams won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Manuel—a Portuguese fisherman—in the 1999 off-Broadway production of Captains Courageous, the Musical. Next, he appeared in the part of Buddy in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies from April to July 2001.

Between 2002 and 2006, Williams played the lead role of Dr. Andrew Brown on The WB’s Everwood, a drama series about a widowed neurosurgeon moving from New York City to Colorado with his two children.

The show garnered critical acclaim and a devoted following during its four-season run, and Williams was twice nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor (2003; 2004).

I enjoyed all of the Frank Capra films a lot. and I believed Greg Berlanti created a Capra-like program. It was just so filled with love, kind people, surprises, and real-life issues that hadn’t before been addressed on networks. It makes me feel incredibly cozy within. It’s definitely the best television series I’ve ever been on, so I’m happy that more people are learning about it.

—Williams on the longevity of Everwood, 2019

Between July and November 2006, Williams made several guest appearances on the first season of the ABC drama series Brothers & Sisters, playing David Morton, a friend and potential suitor of Nora Walker (Sally Field).

Television and film work, children’s book, and final years

In 2007, Williams starred as Nathaniel Grant in the short-lived series Heartland on TNT—which was cancelled during its first-season run—and played real-life convicted murderer Michael Peterson in the Lifetime movie The Staircase Murders.

Variety’s Laura Fries found his performance in the latter to be “effectively enigmatic”. His film credits during this time included Pupi Avati’s The Hideout (2007), the Cameron Diaz/Ashton Kutcher vehicle What Happens in Vegas (2008), independent drama Howl (2010), and Danny Boyle’s Academy Award-nominated 127 Hours (2010), in which he played the father of Aron Ralston (James Franco).

In 2010, Williams authored the children’s book Air Show!, which was published by Disney-Hyperion. Aimed at ages 6–9, it documents an air show with text and illustrations.

Williams told Publishers Weekly that the idea for the book came about after attending an air show with his children and seeing the excitement it brought them, especially his daughter: “In the book, Ellie is the more knowledgeable of the two children, with a real desire to fly … When I was a kid, books about airplanes were considered ‘boy’ books. I thought it would be wonderful to empower a little girl with this love of flight”.

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Williams went on to appear in numerous feature films between 2012–2021, including Deadfall (2012), biographical Brazilian drama Reaching for the Moon (2013), Andrew Fleming’s Barefoot (2014), the Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy Second Act (2018), Drunk Parents (2019) opposite Alec Baldwin, action thriller Run Hide Fight (2020), and the sports drama 12 Mighty Orphans (2021), in which he portrayed Amon G. Carter.

Additionally, The Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck praised Williams for bringing “admirable gravitas” to his role as wealthy patriarch Frank Barron in the 2018 drama The Etruscan Smile, which he co-starred in with Brian Cox. The drama is an adaptation of José Luis Sampedro’s novel.

Williams played the principal role of Mick O’Brien on the Hallmark series Chesapeake Shores from 2016 until its final episode in 2022.

He also had recurring roles on White Collar (2012–2013) as Samuel Phelps; Chicago Fire (2013–2018) as Benny Severide; and Blue Bloods (2016–2023) as Lenny Ross, the former police partner of Frank Reagan (played by Tom Selleck).

Williams co-starred with Kerry Washington and Greg Kinnear in the acclaimed 2016 television film Confirmation, playing U.S. senator Ted Kennedy.

He followed this with roles in Hallmark’s The Christmas House—which drew attention for being the channel’s first Christmas film to feature a same-sex couple— and the Emmy Award-winning Netflix film Christmas on the Square, in which he co-starred opposite Dolly Parton.

Williams had finished filming his depiction of Bill Paley, the former chairman of CBS, for the second season of Feud, an anthology-docudrama series produced by Ryan Murphy for FX, at the time of his passing in June 2023.

The eight episodes of the show, which also starred Diane Lane and Naomi Watts, were helmed by Gus Van Sant. A precise release date has not yet been declared.

Personal life

Williams was offered training in a Piper PA-18 Super Cub in 1969 by his high school football coach, who was also a flight instructor. Williams started flying private jets at the age of 21.

Later, he obtained his FAA commercial instrument rating and obtained ratings for rotorcraft, single-engine, and multi-engine aircraft. He was certified to fly Cessna Citation aircraft.

He had a license to instruct pilots. Williams had a Piper J-3 Cub, Piper Cherokee 180, Piper Seneca II, and a Piper Navajo Chieftain that he used to transport his family between residences.

Williams learned to scuba dive in 1982 along with then-girlfriend Dana Delany while they spent time on Martha’s Vineyard. They both became PADI certified divers.

Williams was open about his struggles with drug addiction during the 1980s, which he believed hampered his career at a time when he was being called an “up-and-coming Pacino or De Niro”. Speaking in 1995, he said: “[My film career] was stopped by my lack of focus and use of cocaine.

I wanted to party more than I wanted to concentrate on my work, really. Unfortunately, you don’t understand how transitory power and fame in Hollywood are until much later.

I messed it up, and I believe that in order to go on, you have to be honest about these things. In the alternative, you always have that small skeleton.

Williams, his wife Pam Van Sant, and their two daughters, Gille and Ellie, split their time between Park City, Utah, and Manchester Center, Vermont.

Death

Williams was hurt in a motorbike accident on Vermont Route 30 close to Dorset on June 12, 2023.

The 2008 Honda Element in the southbound lane allegedly turned into the path of Williams’ motorcycle in the northbound lane, and Williams was unable to avoid colliding with it, according to the Vermont State Police.

At Albany Medical Center, where he was declared dead at the age of 71, he was flown.

 

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