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Treat Williams, LGBTQ+ Ally in Gay-Themed Films, Dead at 71

Treat Williams, LGBTQ+ Ally in Gay-Themed Films, Dead at 71

Treat Williams

Williams's roles included an undercover detective in a gay bathhouse in The Ritz and the supportive father of a gay man in The Christmas House.

Actor Treat Williams, who appeared in several gay-themed or gay-adjacent projects, including TV movies that featured him as a supportive father of a gay man, died Monday as a result of a motorcycle accident in Vermont.

Williams, 71, was riding his motorcycle in the town of Dorset and collided with an SUV that was turning in to a parking lot, the Associated Press reports. He was airlifted to a hospital in Albany, N.Y., and was pronounced dead there. The actor was a resident of Manchester Center, Vt.

His career spanned nearly 50 years and included performances as a whistleblower cop in the 1981 film Prince of the City, directed by Sidney Lumet; a labor organizer in Sergio Leone’s 1985 movie epic Once Upon a Time in America; and, in the new millennium, a widower starting over in the TV series Everwood.

In one of his first film roles, he played a private detective in a gay bathhouse in The Ritz, a 1976 film that Terrence McNally adapted from his play. Williams’s character, Michael Brick, was hired by a crime family to track down a straight man (Jack Weston) hiding from a mob hitman in the titular bathhouse. A highlight of the comedy was Rita Moreno re-creating her Tony-winning Broadway role as the ambitious but untalented entertainer Googie Gomez.

The Ritz - Original Theatrical

Williams’s film breakthrough came in 1979’s Hair, the movie version of the Broadway musical about the 1960s counterculture. He played Berger, the leader of a band of hippies, in a film that celebrated sexuality across the spectrum. The movie was not particularly well received, but Williams’s performance was, with Janet Maslin writing in The New York Times that he “is the only one of the players who really suggests the spirit of euphoria upon which the original ‘Hair’ meant to capitalize.”

He was a Golden Globe nominee for Prince of the City, and while some of his projects after that were lower-profile, he remained a busy actor in film and television. He played the title role of FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover in a 1987 TV movie; Hoover is widely considered to have been a closeted gay man, but the film concentrated on Hoover’s career rather than his personal life. Williams appeared as Stanley Kowalski in the 1984 TV version of A Streetcar Named Desire opposite Ann-Margret, and he played U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy in the 2016 TV film Confirmation, about the hearings on Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court, with Kerry Washington as Anita Hill, the former colleague who accused Thomas of sexual harassment.

Late in his career, Williams endeared himself to LGBTQ+ audiences with his performances as Bill Mitchell, the supportive father of a gay son, in Hallmark’s TV movies The Christmas House (2020) and The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls. “Treat Williams was the father we all wish we had,” Decidercontributor Brett White wrote upon the actor’s death.

Out actor Jonathan Bennett, who played the gay son, Brandon, praised Williams’s allyship in an Instagram post.

“Something he did that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life is the hug he made sure to give Brad [Harder, in the role of Jake] my TV husband as he got out of the car in our first scene,” Bennett wrote. "That will always stick with me. He wanted to make sure as a TV father he was on camera giving his gay son’s husband a huge hug and kiss when we showed up for Christmas. He thought it was important for other fathers watching to see the love and support between a dad and his son’s husband, it was so important to him. That’s the kind of love Treat had for all of us. My love goes out to everyone that was lucky enough to have had Treat in your life.”

Williams’s survivors include his wife, actress Pam Van Sant, and their children, Gill and Ellie.

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