Inside Treat Williams' Amazing Life And Career

Actor Treat Williams, known for his roles on "Everwood" and "Chesapeake Shores," died at age 71 on June 12, 2023, following a motorcycle accident in Vermont. Williams' agent, Barry McPherson, confirmed the star's death to People, saying, "He was the nicest guy. He was so talented." McPherson continued, "He was an actor's actor. Filmmakers loved him. He's been the heart of Hollywood since the late 1970s."

Throughout his dexterous career, Williams explored just about every genre, looking just as comfortable in comedy as he did in drama. From appearing in the Jennifer Lopez comedy "Second Act" to starring in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America" alongside Robert De Niro, Williams demonstrated an incredible range and an ability to shape-shift from project to project. As Dr. Andy Brown on "Everwood," the late actor found a dedicated audience who were drawn to the family drama with a huge heart. And with the Hallmark series "Chesapeake Shores," Williams found himself at the center of the family once again, drawing a passionate army of fans dubbed "Chessies." 

With a career spanning nearly six decades, join us as we take a look at the amazing life and career of Treat Williams.

Treat Williams had an 'idyllic childhood'

Richard Treat Williams was born on December 1, 1951. In 2021, Williams reflected on his youth during an interview with Vermont Magazine, and by all accounts, it sounds as though he had a wonderful upbringing. "I was born in Stamford, Connecticut," he told the publication. "My dad was a WWII veteran. He served in the occupying forces in Japan as a paratrooper. After the war, he came back and married my mom. ... Three years after I was born, we moved to Rowayton, Connecticut, right on the water." 

One of the reasons Williams so appreciated his upbringing was because of the quiet family life he was able to enjoy in Rowayton. "Looking back on my younger years, I had an idyllic childhood, but I didn't initially realize how idyllic it truly was until I grew older." The "Everwood" star went on to reveal that his mother taught sailing and swimming in the local community, something that he helped with as he got older. When he was 14 years old, Williams moved away from home to attend a prep school in Kent, Connecticut, but he never forgot his family. "My dad and my mom were really wonderful, funny, charming people," he told Vermont Magazine. 

Much like some of the characters he would later play in shows like "Chesapeake Shores," Williams enjoyed a family-oriented childhood in a picturesque location, which seems to have influenced the actor throughout his life.

His landlady became his agent

After enjoying acting throughout school, Treat Williams decided to pursue an acting career while he was in college. As for how he was discovered, Williams found an early supporter of his work in the form of his family's landlady. "The house that I grew up in was owned by a woman named Judy Abbott, who was the daughter of George Abbott, who was the most successful director of Broadway musicals for the first part of the 20th century," he told Vermont Magazine. This connection would become extremely important in getting Williams' professional career started. 

When Judy started working for the William Morris Agency, Williams was studying at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, and still pursuing his dream of becoming an actor. "I was doing three college shows: a comedy, a Shakespeare, and a musical," he explained. "She came down and saw the shows, and she told me, 'I'll represent you.'" The "Chicago Fire" actor didn't take the opportunity for granted, however, as he knew how difficult it would be to make it in the entertainment business. "It was a very big 'in' for me, but of course, I still had to prove myself," he told Vermont Magazine. "I'm incredibly grateful to Judy for getting me my first auditions and exposing me to the process early on." 

The fact that Williams' landlady became his Hollywood agent was clearly an unexpected and wonderful turn of events, and also gave the actor the start he desperately wanted.

Treat Williams was a pilot before he became an actor

Despite getting discovered in college, Treat Williams actually trained to be a pilot before he started working as an actor. Williams started learning to fly planes in 1969, telling AOPA in 2011, "I was scared to death during that first lesson, but that didn't last. During my first solo, the Cub [aircraft] exploded off the ground. I couldn't hear the engine because I was screaming so loudly, so joyfully." Williams was first instructed by his high school football coach, and according to AOPA, the actor would eventually fly himself to film sets around the U.S., which is certainly a novel approach to commuting. 

During an interview with Media from the Heart by Ruth Hill in 2016, Williams expanded upon his life in the air, saying, "I have been a pilot for forty-two years. ... And I got my pilot's license when I was twenty-one in 1973, the year I graduated from college." During the same interview, Williams alluded to his membership in the group Living Legends of Aviation, along with Hollywood stars like John Travolta and Harrison Ford, all of whom are dedicated to promoting aviation to younger generations. And according to the "Second Act" star, Travolta got his first taste of flying with Williams piloting the plane. "I actually gave John Travolta his first ride in a small plane back when we were doing 'Grease,'" he told Vermont Magazine. 

Clearly, flying was always a huge part of the late actor's life.

He was John Travolta's understudy in Grease on Broadway

As well as sharing a passion for aviation, Treat Williams and John Travolta also shared the same role in "Grease" on Broadway. During his interview with Vermont Magazine, Williams revealed that a musical accompanist called Phyllis Grandy encouraged him to audition for a traveling company who were performing "Grease." After a successful audition, the actor was asked to return the following week, which he did. "I came back and they put me on Broadway as the understudy to four of the male leads, including John Travolta and Jeff Conaway," Williams told the outlet. "I covered Teen Angel, Doody, Danny Zuko, and Roger. Within two weeks, I was on Broadway performing. It was a baptism by fire, but it was great."

Following the understudy gig, Williams appeared in another Broadway musical — 1974's "Over Here!" alongside the Andrews Sisters — and booked some commercials, but he soon found himself unemployed. Luckily, it wasn't long before he was invited back to play Danny Zuko in the Broadway production of "Grease," but the role didn't go to plan at first. "I went on twice, and I didn't perform well," he admitted to Vermont Magazine. Williams accepted an offer to embark upon the summer tour of "Grease" instead, but after producers saw him performing, everything changed. "Three days later, I got a call asking if I wanted to take over the role of Danny Zuko as the lead in 'Grease' on Broadway," he explained. "That ended up being my job for the next three years."

Treat Williams stripped naked in his Hair audition

One of Treat Williams' earliest onscreen roles was playing Berger in the 1979 film version of the Broadway musical "Hair." The challenging role required Williams to both sing and dance, and the audition process was particularly grueling. "The last audition for 'Hair' was especially strange," Williams explained to Vermont Magazine. "It was my twelfth audition. ... I had the monologue memorized, so I went in to do the audition with confidence." Having confidence during an audition is probably a good thing, but Williams found himself behaving somewhat unexpectedly during the performance.

"As I started the monologue, I started removing all of my clothing," he told Vermont Magazine. "At the end of the monologue, I was standing stark naked in front of them." Basically, Williams decided to put on a real show, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. Luckily, the risky move paid off. "After the monologue, they applauded, and I told them, 'This is all that I've got, I don't know what else I can give you.'" As fate would have it, the naked audition won Williams the coveted role, with the surprising stunt seemingly impressing everyone in the room. 

As Williams was probably the only actor to strip during the actual audition process, he was likely more memorable than his competitors, and proved that he would put his entire heart, soul, and body into the movie.

The actor's earliest films flopped

While Treat Williams was thrilled to star in 1979's "Hair," the movie wasn't the success everyone hoped it would be. As a result, Williams found his early taste of fame slipping away from him all too fast. "I got a lot of invitations after 'Hair,' but after the film flopped, the invitations stopped," he told The New York Times in 1981. "I've already had a taste of celebrity, and it left a bad taste." Understandably, the young actor became weary of Hollywood and the entertainment industry following his early experiences. He even started flying planes commercially out of Los Angeles to pay the bills while his acting career floundered, as he admitted to the outlet.

Despite falling back on his piloting skills during an acting dry spell, Williams never really let go of his dreams to make it as an actor. However, the downtime allowed him to reflect on what was going wrong in his career, and what he was missing out on. "I'd done eight films, none of which had been successful," Williams, who'd even acted alongside Rita Moreno in 1976's "The Ritz," told The New York Times. "I felt so out of control. I wasn't working with people I wanted to work with. I was very frustrated.” 

This difficult period didn't last forever, of course, and Williams was eventually wooed back to the film industry by iconic director Sidney Lumet to star in 1981's "Prince of the City." Finally, Williams' acting career was heading in the right direction.

Treat Williams had to learn how to navigate fame

After Treat Williams' career started to take off, he was forced to come to terms with the level of fame he'd achieved, but not everyone seemed to understand his new normal. While speaking to Vermont Magazine, the actor explained, "Things get different when you start working with some of the better-known people in the industry." Williams highlighted his appearance in Sergio Leone's 1984 film "Once Upon a Time in America" as a particular turning point, which saw him working with Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Joe Pesci.

"After I did 'Once Upon a Time in America' ... I reconnected with some of the younger people I knew from the days I spent as a cast member of 'Grease,'" he told Vermont Magazine. Williams revealed to his friends that he'd recently piloted a plane with De Niro on board. "I casually referred to him as 'Bobby DeNiro,'" Williams explained. "Someone said, 'Oh, you call him Bobby now? Bobby DeNiro is your buddy?'" While Williams was simply relaying the details of a recent event, his friendship with De Niro was seemingly jarring to his older friends. "One of the hardest things about gaining prominence in your career is that other people start to get intimidated by the fact that you know other prominent actors," he told the outlet. 

Hopefully, Williams later found more comfort in having worked with some of Hollywood's greatest actors and directors, in spite of the reactions of others.

Treat Williams adored his family

As well as having a glittering Hollywood career, Treat Williams was a family man, who completely adored his wife and two children. Williams married Pam Van Sant in 1988, and the couple welcomed their son, Gill, in 1992, followed by daughter Ellie in 1998. The actor, whose final Instagram posts documented his daily life at his family's home in Vermont, regularly paid tribute to his family members on social media, proving just how dedicated he was to his happy home life. For instance, on June 5, 2023, Williams shared a photo of Ellie on Instagram, which he captioned, "I miss you daughter," followed by three heart emojis. On May 14 of that same year, the star shared an old family photo in honor of Mother's Day, writing, "Thank you Pam for raising these wonderful humans into the great people they are today." Basically, family seemed to have come first for Williams.

In August 2015, Williams took to Twitter to share another sweet family snap, writing, "My son graduated from NYU. My daughter is 16 my wife is the best and at 63 I am content. Lucky." While speaking to Smashing Interviews Magazine in 2020, Williams also discussed his delight at returning home after being away on location for work. "I'd love to just be home, go make my show, and at the end of the summer, come back and enjoy my family again," he explained. "I think that's enough right now." 

It's clear that Williams had his priorities right, regardless of his busy acting career.

He had a lot of love for his Everwood co-stars

One of Treat Williams' most beloved roles was playing Dr. Andy Brown on the family drama "Everwood," which ran for four seasons in the early 2000s on The CW, back when it was known as The WB. On the show, Dr. Brown moves his family from New York City to a small town in Colorado following the death of his wife. The series starred everyone from Emily VanCamp to Chris Pratt. In honor of the show's 15th anniversary, Williams spoke to TVLine in 2017, revealing, "I think we all knew we were doing something that was really wonderful and special." 

During his interview with Media from the Heart by Ruth Hill in 2016, Williams opened up about his enduring love for the cast. "I communicate with Chris [Pratt] on occasion through Twitter," he explained. "... I flew over to Vancouver, and Greg [Smith, who played Dr. Brown's son, Ephram, on 'Everwood'] and I had a very, very long and lovely dinner. ... He's directing now ... and I'm so proud of him." Williams went on to say that he had also stayed in touch with Vivien Cardone, who played his onscreen daughter, Delia. The actor then celebrated fans of the show, telling the outlet, "There's a lot of love that floats out there for 'Everwood.' We all are very proud of it." 

In April 2023, Williams also shared a photo on Instagram taken with his onscreen "Everwood" nemesis Tom Amandes, revealing that they had remained close friends, too.

Treat Williams was 'thrilled' to be part of a Hallmark milestone

In 2020, Treat Williams starred in Hallmark's "The Christmas House" alongside his "Chesapeake Shores" co-star, Robert Buckley. The movie was an important milestone, as it was the first Hallmark film to feature a gay couple. Williams was excited appear in the film, telling Smashing Interviews Magazine, "I'm just really thrilled to be a part of Hallmark's stepping up to a new plateau in their entertainment. ... I think Hallmark will have a whole new audience that they will be grateful to have for being more inclusive now." 

Williams' performance in the movie as Jonathan Bennett's character's dad was celebrated as the perfect example of how a parent of LGBTQ+ children can be loving and supportive. Bennett himself sweetly echoed this sentiment when he paid tribute to Williams on Instagram following his death, noting how important this portrayal was to the late actor. In fact, the film was such a success that a sequel, "The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls," followed in 2021, with Williams reprising his role. Discussing his decision to join "The Christmas House" franchise, Williams told Smashing Interview Magazine, "I'm very proud to be a part of that." 

Williams' willingness to celebrate inclusion and diversity on screen is so important and shows how he used his influence to help make positive changes in the entertainment industry whenever he could.

He returned to musicals in Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square

Treat Williams also appeared in Dolly Parton's "Christmas on the Square" in 2020, a holiday movie musical released on Netflix. For the film, Williams had the opportunity to return to his musical roots by showcasing his singing voice on a tune called "Keeper of Memories." While speaking to Smashing Interviews Magazine, the actor opened up about the role, saying, "I started in musicals. I played Danny Zuko in 'Grease' for three years before I got 'Hair.' But Dolly wrote, I think, one of the most beautiful songs I've ever sung on film or on Broadway. It's a lovely song, and I was very grateful to sing it." 

It seems that Williams had a ball getting the chance to sing on screen, especially as he got to work with country legend Parton. "It's all Dolly all the time," he said of the musical. "You can feel her presence in it all through. Her songs are wonderful. She wrote great music for it." However, Williams also revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic had stopped him being able to visit Dollywood, which he was very disappointed about. Still, the fact that the "12 Mighty Orphans" star got the chance to appear in Parton's glitzy holiday musical is pretty amazing.

Following the actor's tragic passing in June 2023, Parton paid tribute to her late co-star, writing of Williams on Instagram, "I've never known a kinder, sweeter, more talented person in my life."

Tom Selleck was Treat Williams' perfect scene partner on Blue Bloods

Treat Williams made a number of guest appearances on the CBS drama "Blue Bloods," and it's clear that the actor loved working with the show's star, Tom Selleck. "We're like two old pros," Williams told Smashing Interviews Magazine. According to the "Drunk Parents" star, working with Selleck was a breeze, especially as neither of them ever needed to rehearse a scene. "The director said, 'Okay. Let's rehearse,'" Williams explained. "Tom and I said, 'Rehearse? What are you talking about? Let's shoot this.' We're ready to go." 

Singing his fellow actor's praises, Williams told the outlet, "I think between me and Tom there's probably 85 or 90 years of acting on screen. He's a wonderful partner and really cares about the show, very meticulous about it and a lovely guy. I couldn't work with a nicer co-star." 

Williams' kind words about Selleck are a testament to the late actor's warm personality. At the time of his death, Williams had already proven himself to be a wonderful actor with an incredibly varied body of work under his belt. As tributes have continued to pour in, it's clear that Williams will be remembered for who he was outside of work, as well as his extraordinary onscreen performances. For his part, Selleck stated to People, "It has been said that we are all just passing time and occupy our chair very briefly. My friend Treat was aptly named and occupied his chair so well. I will miss him but I will not forget him. Well done, my friend."