Grammy-winning songwriter Allee Willis, who wrote the Friends theme song as well as many other hits like “September,” has died from cardiac arrest. She was 72.
Her partner, Prudence Fenton, revealed on Instagram that Willis died on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve. “Rest In Boogie Wonderland Nov 10,1947-December 24, 2019,” Fenton wrote in the caption of a photo of Willis.
Best known for her work with the group Earth, Wind & Fire along with writing “I’ll Be There For You” for The Rembrandts, which became the theme song for Friends and earned her an Emmy nomination, Willis was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018. Along with writing Earth, Wind & Fire’s iconic hits like “September” and “Boogie Wonderland,” she also co-wrote the Broadway musical The Color Purple and the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, earning Grammy Awards for both. She is also responsible for the theme song from The Karate Kid a.k.a. “You’re the Best,” Patti LaBelle’s “Stir It Up,” and the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” among many others.
Willis graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a journalism degree before moving to New York in 1969 to work at Columbia and Epic Records in a copywriting position. She turned to music and songwriting in 1972, and Bonnie Raitt was the first artist to cover her songs after hearing her 1974 Epic album Childstar. Willis then went on to collaborate with musicians like Bob Dylan, James Brown, LaBelle, Deniece Williams, Herbie Hancock, and Motown great Lamont Dozier, among others. Willis’ compositions have sold over 60 million records so far, according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Willis is also known for owning and curating one of the world’s biggest collections of kitsch — tacky popular art. In 2009, she launched The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch website.
She is survived by her brother Kent Willis, sister Marlin Frost, and niece Mandy Becker.
Many celebrities took to social media to memorialize Willis on Christmas Day:
Allee Willis, who had hits with so many wonderful artists, Earth Wind & Fire, the Pointer Sisters, and who wrote the score for the Broadway hit "The Color Purple" has died. My condolences to all her friends in the music community, and in Los Angeles, where she was so beloved.— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) December 25, 2019
What shitty fucking news. What a talent,what a character, what a loss. Rest is musical power Allee Willis💔🎵🎶— Diane Warren (@Diane_Warren) December 25, 2019
RIP Allee Willis. Thanks for so many great songs, but most of all “September” which is the best and most feel-good song ever. ❤️ https://t.co/EIuqK7KdFI— Richard Marx (@richardmarx) December 25, 2019
OH NO! 💔 #AlleeWillis was a wonderful woman who wrote so many amazing songs. One of my favorites was #ComeWhatMay from #FAME. I met her at a #WomensMarch a couple of years ago and just gushed about her songwriting like the fangirl I am.— yvette nicole brown (@YNB) December 25, 2019
This breaks my heart. #RIPAlleeWillis https://t.co/Ky8AWMQaER