Classic R&B vocal group The Temptations dropped some of the greatest songs in the genre during their heyday. Founding member and original Temptations singer Paul Williams was with the band during their critical and commercial peak from 1960 to 1971.
However, the legendary baritone vocalist died at just 34 in 1973, two years after his exit from the group.
How did Paul Williams, the temptations singer, die? This article will explore Williams’ health problems, vices, and the circumstances of his untimely death.
How Did Paul Williams Die?
Temptations singer Paul Williams died from a gunshot wound to the head on August 17, 1973 in Detroit, Michigan. His death occurred shortly after he left his girlfriend’s house after an argument.
The coroner ruled his death as a suicide, and it was reported as such in the media, although the ruling remains controversial to this day.
On August 19, 1973, Detroit Free Press announced his death, stating:
“Williams was found slumped in the front seat of a car at 14th and W. Grand Blvd. He died of a gunshot wound in the head; a gun was in his hand. He was only wearing swimming trunks.”
Paul Williams’ funeral was held on August 24, 1973, with his family and former bandmates attending.
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Did Paul Williams Really Commit Suicide?
Paul Williams’ bandmate in The Temptations, Otis Williams (no relation), said that Paul had expressed suicidal thoughts to him and Melvin Franklin in the months before his death.
Paul Williams’ family nevertheless suspected he died due to foul play. They cited several details in the coroner’s report as supporting this conclusion, including:
- The gunshot wound was on the left side of Williams’ head, but the gun was in his right hand.
- A bottle of alcohol was lying on Williams’ left side as if he dropped it while being shot.
- The gun found on the scene had fired two shots, but Williams had only one bullet wound.
Despite these details, the authorities did not alter their original verdict on Williams’ death.
What Factors Contributed to Paul Williams’ Death?
Temptations singer Paul Williams had many problems in his life in the years leading up to his death. While that doesn’t prove his death was a suicide, his life immediately before his death was certainly very tumultuous.
Williams had sickle-cell anemia, which typically manifests in the first year of life. The disease caused health issues throughout his life, including during his time with The Temptations.
However, it was the bottle that really hit his health the hardest.
Williams, who was once a strict teetotaler, eventually took to heavy drinking to deal with the hardships of life on the road.
His personal life also contributed to his drinking issues.
The singer was having an affair with The Supremes stylist Winnie Brown. He loved Brown, but felt he could not leave his wife and children.
Williams’ love for the bottle took a huge toll on his professional life. Bandmate Otis Williams recalled that it was hard to “see a guy come from drinking milk to drinking, sometimes, two to three fifths of Courvoisier a day.”
Eventually, The Temptations used Monitors’ lead vocalist Richard Street as a fill-in to perform most of Paul Williams’ parts live. Street sang behind a curtain while Williams performed.
After finding a spot on his liver, the band eventually convinced Williams to see a doctor He advised the singer to fully retire from the band to focus on his health.
To assist Williams, the band continued to pay him 1/5th of The Temptations’ royalties, ostensibly as an adviser and choreographer. Despite this help and the doctor’s orders, losing his music career only worsened Williams’ personal problems.
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Paul Williams’ Legacy
Temptations singer Paul Williams is primarily remembered for singing in the band’s golden era from 1964 to 1971.
During this time, he performed on 15 studio albums with the band. 11 of these albums hit number one on the US R&B chart, and six were certified Gold in the US.
Williams’ entire career with the band extended from 1961–1972, including his time with pre-Temptations group the Elgins. His final studio album with The Temptations was recorded in 1971 but was only released in 1972.
Although Williams began as the main lead singer, by 1964, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks had taken the limelight in the group, as Ruffin’s tenor and Kendrick’s tenor/falsetto vocals led many of the band’s biggest hits.
Early Paul Williams lead tracks include the group’s debut single “Oh, Mother of Mine” (1961), “Your Wonderful Love” (1961), “Slow Down Heart” (1962), “I Want a Love I Can See” (1963) and “Farewell My Love” (1963).
Later lead tracks from temptations singer Williams include “Don’t Look Back” (1965), “Just Another Lonely Night” (1965), “No More Water in the Well” (1967), and “Hey Girl” (1969).
One of his most notable late-career performances is his lead vocals on 1968 hit single “Cloud Nine,” which was certified Gold and was the first Motown single to win a Grammy.
Williams’ singing on “For Once in My Life” on the 1968 TCB television special and his live version of “Don’t Look Back” are some of his finest work.
Paul Williams is also remembered as the best dancer in the Temptations and for his role as the original choreographer for the group until 1965. He also created dance routines for The Supremes, such as their famous “Stop! In the Name of Love” routine.
Who Is Paul Williams Survived By?
Paul Williams’ wife, Mary Agnes Williams, survived the legendary soul singer. Paul Williams’ children with his wife are Sarita, Kenneth, Paula, Mary, and Paul Jr.
Later in life, Paul Jr. joined The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards (Edwards was a member from 1968–1977).
Williams also had three other children with three different girlfriends: Paul Williams Lucas, Anthony Johnson, and Derrick Vinyard.
Who Has Died from The Temptations?
The ‘classic five’ members of The Temptations from the mid-1960s are Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams.
Of these members, only Otis Williams is alive. The Temptations are still active today, and Otis remains a member, although the 81-year-old rarely sings lead. Other late members of The Temptations include Dennis Edwards (1968–1977, 1980–1984, 1987–1989), Damon Harris (1971–1975), Ali-Ollie Woodson (1984–87), Harry McGilberry (1995-2003) and Bruce Williamson (2007–2015).
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