Treat Williams didn’t play the perfect dad, but he was always trying.
Actor (Richard) Treat Williams died at the age of 71 on Monday, June 12, 2023, after a motorcycle accident near Dorset, VT. More details about his death can be read here.
Treat Williams was known as a real ‘actor’s actor,’ someone who had a great relationship with everyone he met on set, and who continued to stay in touch or provide guidance and mentorship to other actors throughout their careers. An avid skier, he lived in Vermont with his wife Pam Van Sant and their dog Woody on a large farm where more recently, they seemed to be enjoying his less rigorous career. (Williams is also survived by his two adult children Gil and Ellie).
Just this past Sunday (June 11, 2023) Williams was posting a photo on Twitter of the view of their farm while sitting on his deck in his pajamas drinking coffee.
An in-depth Q&A with Williams in 2021 was published in Vermont Magazine where he talks about his childhood and how he got into acting. (There are some awesome photos of a young Williams portraying Danny Zuko from Grease on Broadway (among many other roles).
The published interview is from a longer recorded interview as part of the “Vermont Voices” series. It was tough for me to hear Williams’ voice now that he is gone. It is a warm comforting voice that I have grown familiar with watching him over the years. You can listen to the full interview here:
Williams was perhaps most well known during his early career for his starring performance in the 1979 film adaptation of the musical Hair. He talks during his interview about going through 12 auditions before finally being offered the film role. During his final audition, Williams recited a monologue from the stage production while simultaneously stripping down naked throughout. By the time he was finished, the entire crew applauded his performance. He said he didn’t know what else he could offer to prove he was the one for the role and the director offered it to him then and there. Williams had a varied career on the stage, in film, and on television. He received several nominations and some wins for his performances throughout his career, including nominations for two Screen Actors Guild Awards, three Golden Globes, a Primetime Emmy, two Satellite Awards, and an Independent Spirit Award.
Williams starred as Dr. Andy Brown on The WB's Everwood from 2002–2006. He was twice nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance in a Drama Series for his performance. While many may remember him for more comical or action-packed characters, it is as Dr. Brown that I will most fondly remember Treat Williams. Having recently graduated college in 2003, I moved back home and found myself sort of in limbo back in the Hudson Valley. Most of my friends from growing up had moved away (or were trying to). I applied for several jobs, finally landing one in New York City at a Public Relations firm. Without enough money to move, I commuted daily via Metro-North Railroad like many other HV natives. This meant getting up early to drive to the station, often running from my parked car as I heard the train horn blowing upon its approach. I’d pass out on the train ride into Manhattan and often again on the ride home. My mom worked nights as a labor and delivery nurse and my dad often watched sports in the evenings on the big TV in the family room. So after eating dinner and showering, I’d crawl up onto my parents’ king-sized mattress in their bedroom, the only other room that had a television set in our house, to watch something before I got too tired to keep my eyes open. Back then, my comfort came in the form of The WB.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, The WB, not The CW. I had avidly watched Dawson’s Creek throughout my college days but when I returned home after graduation I was left with a void. That void would be filled by a very different show called Everwood, created by the now super-successful Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon, The Flash, Arrow, Riverdale, You, and many more films and shows).
In Everwood, a busy and successful brain surgeon from New York City decides to uproot his two children from city life after their mother dies in a car crash. He brings them to the small idyllic (and completely fictional) town of Everwood, Colorado, a place his wife remembered fondly from her youth. Everwood, in particular, that first season, is intensely about grief and guilt. Dr. Andrew “Andy” Brown does not really need to work, he has made more than enough money as a renowned surgeon so he has a sort of idealized idea of becoming a “family doctor” that does not charge his patients. Without spelling it out, it is Andy’s way of atoning, not only for his wife’s death but for his absence as both a husband and a father when she was still alive. Dr. Brown often speaks to his wife in that first season, imagining that she is still there, looking to her for guidance while rearing their children or for comfort when he is lonely. During the course of that first season, most of Everwood goes from being intrigued by the celebrity surgeon to starting to think Dr. Brown has lost his mind, but Williams shows through Andy how grief can consume a person without them even realizing it.
Williams as Andy Brown shows a father who has to learn, through trial and a lot of errors, how to be a father to his two children. His old self exclaims how his kids always had the best teachers, the best stuff, but when it came to attention, that always came from their mom. Andy can be a successful world-renowned surgeon and still be a terrible father. All of a sudden he is trying to make lunches and attend school functions with other moms and he doesn't know what he’s doing. He finds he can have temper tantrums just as much as his tween and teenage children. It is when Williams is portraying Andy Brown at his worst and perhaps, his most vulnerable, that I love the character the most. Despite the many terrible arguments Andy has with his teenage son Ephram (Gregory Smith) they also have so many excellent conversations where both parties actually learn from each other. Some of the funniest exchanges happen between father and son on a show that is often described as a family drama.
The other side of the coin is Andy’s original adversary, Dr. Harold Abbott (Tom Amandes) who over the course of four seasons becomes one of his closest friends. They have some of the best banter in my opinion. While Everwood never reached as critical acclaim as some of The WB’s other shows, it kickstarted the careers of Chris Pratt (I ❤️ Bright Abbott), Emily VanCamp, and Sarah Drew (along with Gregory Smith).
I will always remember when I found out that the show was being canceled. Working for a large PR firm, I was privy to the early knowledge that The WB and UPN networks were about to merge into the new (supposedly improved) CW. Not every show would be picked up by The CW. I held my breath and crossed my fingers but I eventually learned the harsh truth: Everwood was not going to the CW. But you know what show was going to The CW? Seventh Heaven. SEVENTH. HEAVEN. I was livid.
Greg Berlanti and crew have said in interviews that they filmed two season finales for the fourth (and now final) season of the show: one in case they were picked up for The CW, and one in case the show was canceled. The show ended but in hindsight, I am glad it did when it did. It allowed the showrunners to end the show on their own terms rather than finishing on a cliffhanger that would never be resolved. In the end, they wrote a conclusion for the series that was both extremely satisfying and still a bit open-ended for the viewers’ imaginations to continue the lives of these beloved characters.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that two weeks ago another beloved Everwood actor John Beasley (who played Irv Harper and the show’s narrator) passed away at the age of 79. Williams paid tribute to his friend and costar on Twitter:
Treat Williams had a long and varied acting career - both before and after Everwood - but I find myself going back to that show again and again as a source of comfort every few years. While the younger me identified with Ephram as an angry teen (even during my early twenties), I find I identify more now with the unsure adult Dr. Andy Brown. Rather than a “Father Knows Best” performance, Williams always portrayed Andy as someone who was willing to fail, but more so, who was willing to try.
RIP Treat Williams (1951 - 2023). You will be missed.
Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro