Legendary ‘Friends’ Theme Song Composer Allee Willis Has Passed Away

Grammy-winning songwriter Allee Willis might not have been a household name, but you’ve definitely heard her work before. In fact, you’ve probably sung along with at least one of her compositions. She wrote “I’ll Be There for You” for The Replacements, which went on to be iconic the theme song for Friends.

Songwriter Allie Willis on the red carpet

An Incredible Career

Alta Sherral Willis was born on November 10, 1947, in Detroit. She grew up fascinated by Motown music and black culture, despite her father’s disapproval, and eventually went on to collaborate with Earth, Wind & Fire on a number of their hits and wrote the Grammy-winning musical The Color Purple.

Her skills as a composer also showed up on the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop, for which she won her first Grammy. She penned the theme to The Karate Kid, “You’re the Best,” one of the great training montage songs of the 1980s.

Allee Willis also wrote pop songs for a wide variety of top artists, including:

  • Debby Boone
  • Crystal Gayle
  • Sister Sledge
  • Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • The Pointer Sisters
  • The Pet Shop Boys
  • Patti LaBelle
  • Bob Dylan
  • Herbie Hancock
  • Big Sean

All together, Willis’s catalog of hits sold more than 60 million copies. Her biggest chart success came from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” an upbeat funk collaboration with lead singer Maurice White.

After Taylor Swift covered the song in 2018, Willis had some scathing words to say about it, describing Swift’s version as being “lethargic as a drunk turtle dozing under a sunflower after ingesting a bottle of Valium, and I thought it had all the build of a one-story motel.”

More Than Just ‘Friends’

Allee Willis jokingly said that “I’ll Be There for You” was the “whitest song I ever wrote.” It’s also hands-down to the most popular thing tune she ever wrote thanks to Friends. She was nominated for an Emmy in 1995 for “I’ll Be There for You.”

Willis was also an activist who spoke up for the rights of songwriters, helped raise money for the city of Detroit, and was an early pioneer in the realm of digital copyright. In addition to her extensive catalog as a composer, she was also a mixed-media artist who worked in paint, ceramic, and sculpture.

Her kooky personal style, which included an asymmetric haircut, clashing prints, and bright colors, made her an instantly recognizable figure on the red carpet, even if most of her work was done behind the scenes.

She passed away from a sudden heart attack at the age of 72 on Christmas Eve. She is survived by her long-time partner, Prudence Fenton.