Michael Tran/FilmMagic
Alex Heigl
January 27, 2014 11:00 AM
Paul Williams
Monty Brinton/CBS for People.com

It’s hard to make a speech with a robot helmet on your head. So Daft Punk were duly silent for most of the Grammys, allowing others to speak for them at the podium. During their acceptance speech for album of the year, a diminutive, unmasked man stepped up to the microphone with a pretty great opening line: “Back when I was drinking, I would imagine things that weren’t there and I’d get frightened. Then I got sober and two robots called and asked me to make an album.”

That man was Paul Williams, and while his appearance may have been a mystery to the average Grammy viewer, his work certainly isn’t.

Williams cowrote two tracks on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, “Touch” and “Beyond,” and sings on “Touch.” He picked up his third Grammy Sunday night, having previously won song of the year in 1977 for “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)” and best children’s recording in 1979 for The Muppet Movie. (He wrote a little tune you may be familiar with called “The Rainbow Connection.”)

Besides his contributions to Muppetdom, Williams also cowrote – with collaborator Roger Nichols – “An Old Fashioned Love Song” for Three Dog Night, as well as “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” for the Carpenters. (He also auditioned for both The Mickey Mouse Club and the Monkees.) And he wrote the lyrics to the theme from Love Boat.

Williams also had a career in Hollywood, playing Little Enos Burdette in Smokey and the Bandit and starring in Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, a bizarre camp classic better seen than described.

Williams struggled with alcohol and drugs (as he alluded to in his acceptance speech), and has been sober for 23 years – he received his certification as a Drug Rehabilitation Counselor from UCLA.

Williams was elected President of the ASCAP Foundation (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, one of the largest performance rights organizations in the U.S.) in 2009. Two years later, a documentary about his life, Paul Williams Still Alive premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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