Thursday, July 18, 2024

Treat Williams, star of Deep Rising & Prince of the City, dead at 71

Treat Williams, star of Deep Rising & Prince of the City, dead at 71

Treat Williams, a long-time character actor and star of the well-loved cult movies Deep Rising and Dead Heat, has died at 71. According to a report via People Magazine, the actor died in a tragic motorcycle accident. His agent, Barry McPherson, told the magazine, “He was killed this afternoon. He was making a left or a right and a car cut him off,” McPherson said, adding, “I’m just devastated. He was the nicest guy. He was so talented.”

Williams had a long, legendary career on the silver screen. He first broke out in the late seventies in movies like The Eagle Has Landed before earning a Golden Globe nomination for the film adaptation of Hair. He had perhaps his best role in 1981, playing the lead in Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City (a favorite of ours here at JoBlo), earning a Golden Globe nomination. In the film, he played a formerly crooked cop who becomes an informer. It should have led to Williams becoming a star on the level of Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, but it never quite happened. However, he did star opposite the latter in a small role in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.

Williams also starred in several well-received genre films, all of which we’ve covered extensively here, including Dead Heat, 1998’s Deep Rising, and a slew of sequels to the 1996 movie The Substitute, where he replaced Tom Berenger in the lead role. He also memorably chewed the scenery as the baddie Xander Drax in The Phantom, but had his biggest success on the small screen, where he was the lead on Everwood for four seasons. He recently had a role in David Simon’s We Own this City for HBO, and a long-running recurring role on the Tom Selleck show Blue Bloods.

Williams was known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. When researching Dead Heat for The Best Movie You Never Saw, I spoke to an old colleague of his, Patrick Read Johnson, who worked as a director on the second unit (and directed the excellent 5-25-77). He related the following anecdote to me via email:

Treat had been a fixed-wing pilot for many years, and, had recently become a helicopter pilot, as well.  We’d talked about his adventures a few times on set. And I’d expressed great interest in joining him on any flight he might make available. The problem was, Treat was banned, by his contract, from flying while making the film.  But he kept talking about how much he needed to “Go up”… And how it was killing him to not be able to… 

The “Butcher Shop Scene” had been looming for weeks. The director,  Mark Goldblatt, was behind schedule, through no fault of his own, and was terrified that the studio was going to cut the scene, in order to keep him on-schedule and on-budget.  So, David Helpern and Michael Meltzer, who’d hired me, asked Mark if he would be willing to “loan” the lead actors, Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Key Luke, and Lindsay Price, to ME— so that I could act as a de facto Second Unit Director and shoot a First Unit scene, overnight, with a skeleton crew, to make sure the scene ended up in the film.  To his credit, Mark agreed, and I was suddenly in charge of the whole sequence.  

We shot from like 7pm til maybe 6am the next morning.  And while I’d spent the whole night attacking Treat with everything from a giant rubber steer carcass, to an actual LIVER, we had so much fun doing it, that when we wrapped, Treat wiped off the fake blood and slime and REAL LIVER JUICE and said— “JOHNSON!  8 A.M.!  VAN NUYS AIRPORT!  WE’RE GOIN’ UP!”  

So, I show up at 8am, at Van Nuys Airport, and there’s Treat, pre-flighting this tiny whirlybird, and he hands me a headset and points me to the passenger seat, and jumps in the pilot’s seat, and very… VERY… meticulously goes through a checklist.   He asks for clearance from the tower, and I’m thinking— Yeah— HERE we go… The minute they give him clearance, we’re blasting off— I hear the tower give clearance— and we oh-so-slowly… ever-so-cautiously… ascend… And we taxi, SLOOOOOOWLY, like perfectly reasonable pilots, to our departure point… And I’m thinking… “Really?”  

And Treat gently increases our lift… and we ascend, about as fast as a lost helium balloon, into the smoggy sky above the San Fernando Valley… 

And, achieving some kind of standard traffic altitude, we then flew North by Northwest… For what seemed like half an hour.  Straight and level… Safe and sound… And I kept thinking… “REALLY???”  You went to all the trouble and COST of learning the complexities of helicopter piloting… for THIS?

And just as I was shaking my inner head, Treat suddenly pointed down toward an approaching canyon we’d just overtaken, having left “controlled airspace” and yelled— “LOOK!  ENEMY TROOPS!!”  And he slammed the stick forward and threw us into a dive, the likes of which I will never forget, and proceeded to Apocalypse Now the shit out the next ten minutes of our flight!   And, the whole time, I’m SCREAMING and LAUGHING (mostly SCREAMING) and Treat’s having the time of his life and then, just as soon as it began, we passed back into controlled airspace, and suddenly we were back to “NORMAL” flight.  

Indeed Williams was one of the greats, and he will be missed.

Originally published at

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