Allee Willis, a Grammy-winning and Emmy-nominated songwriter who helped compose the theme song for the sitcom Friends, has died aged 72.
I’ll Be There for You, the single she co-wrote for the Rembrandts, became one of the most recognised television theme songs of all time.
Willis also co-wrote the Earth, Wind & Fire hits September and Boogie Wonderland and, last year, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Born and raised in Detroit, home of the legendary record label Motown, Willis would visit the studios every weekend growing up, she told the New York Times last year. “You could hear through the walls, which is how I became a songwriter,” she said.
Despite writing music and lyrics for a catalogue of hits that also include the Pointer Sisters’ Neutron Dance and the Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield’s What Have I Done to Deserve This?, she never learned how to read or play music.
“I hear melodies constantly,” she told the Times. “I always say: ‘If you were to drop dead, I could write to the clunk of the body.'”
She studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin and then, in 1969, moved to New York, where she landed a copywriting job at Columbia and Epic Records. In 1972, she turned to music and songwriting.
Her hits have sold more than 60 million records around the world, according to her website. She won two Grammy Awards, one for the soundtrack for the film Beverly Hills Cop and another for the musical The Color Purple.
In 1995, she was nominated for an Emmy for I’ll Be There for You, which she had co-written as a short theme for Friends before it was expanded into a full song. But the theme music of Star Trek: Voyager won the Emmy that year.
A kitsch lover whose hairstyle was long on one side and short on the other, Willis lived in a light-pink house in Los Angeles known as Willis Wonderland, a nod to the Earth, Wind & Fire hit.
In her house, she hosted large parties with A-list celebrities and gathered the objects she collected throughout her career, now catalogued online at the Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch.
Also in that house, Willis reportedly composed September, which was “still that song that when people found out I’d written that, they just go ‘Oh my God,’ and then tell me in some form how happy that song makes them every time they hear it,” she was quoted by Variety as saying.
When September was covered by Taylor Swift last year, Willis said she was “thrilled” – before describing the cut “as lethargic as a drunk turtle dozing under a sunflower after ingesting a bottle of Valium”.
Her partner Prudence Fenton paid tribute on Instagram, saying: “Rest In Boogie Wonderland.”