Allee Willis, the Grammy-winning songwriter who composed the renowned Friends theme song and collaborated with Earth, Wind, & Fire and others, has died. Willis’ partner, Prudence Fenton, confirmed her death on Instagram with a photo of the prolific songwriter and the caption, “Rest In Boogie Wonderland Nov 10,1947-December 24, 2019.” Willis reportedly died on Tuesday evening, December 24, of cardiac arrest. She was 72 years old.
Growing up in Detroit, Willis was inspired by the soulful sounds of Motown. According to a 2018 interview with Matthew Schneier at The New York Times, she began her career after college at Columbia and Epic Records, where she wrote ads and liner notes until the creation of her on LP, Childstar. While the album was not a stand-out success, it did catch the attention of artists like Bonnie Raitt and Patti LaBelle, who approached her with songwriting opportunities. It would ultimately kick off her legacy as a star collaborator.
Willis rose to prominence with her multiple collaborations with Earth, Wind, & Fire, co-writing such hits as “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and “In the Stone.” She also composed “Neutron Dance” for The Pointer Sisters and Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done To Deserve This?,” which featured Dusty Springfield. As a collaborating composer on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, she won her first Grammy in 1986. However, it was her work on The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You,”—the Friends theme song—that cemented her immovable place in pop culture across multiple generations. The song earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Achievement In Main Title Theme Music.
In the world of theater, Willis was the co-author of the musical The Color Purple, for which she won her second Grammy in 2016. In 2018, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.