Allee Willis, Songwriter Behind 'Friends' Theme, Dead at 72

Allee Willis
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She also co-wrote the music for 'The Color Purple.'

Allee Willis, a songwriter whose work included the Broadway musical The Color Purple as well as the theme song from the TV show Friends and Earth, Wind & Fire's "September," has died. She was 72.

The cause of death Tuesday was a cardiac event, her publicist, Ellyn Solis, told The New York Times.

The Times did not specify where she died, though she had been living in Los Angeles. The Associated Press could not immediately reach Solis.

Willis was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018 — more than 30 years after she won a GRAMMY for co-writing Patti LaBelle's "Stir It Up" for the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop.

She was nominated for but did not win, GRAMMY and Tony awards for co-writing the music for The Color Purple.

She was also nominated for an Emmy for the Friends theme song, "I'll Be There for You" performed by the Rembrandts but lost to the theme of Star Trek: Voyager. 

She wrote hundreds of other songs, including pieces for Ray Charles, Sister Sledge and Cyndi Lauper.

"I, very thankfully, have a few songs that will not go away," she told The Times in 2018, "but they're schlepping along 900 others."

Willis grew up in Detroit and was raised on the sounds of Motown, though she never learned to play music. She attributes her love for music to visiting Motown studios every weekend while growing up.

"I would sit on the lawn," she told The Times. "You could watch everyone come in. But most importantly you could hear through the walls, which is how I became a songwriter." 

She became known around Los Angeles for her lavish home near North Hollywood, an architectural gem designed by William Kesling in 1937, which Willis bought in 1981 and filled with pop culture artifacts and artwork. The home was nicknamed "Willis Wonderland," CBS Los Angeles reported

"Her famously wild parties are carefully planned, too," read a 2011 profile of Willis in The New York Times. "Parties are in the air here, she explained, since the house was built as a retreat for Paramount, a place where actors could let loose on the weekends, in a remote area that was once mostly orange groves and walnut orchards, except for one neighbor down the dirt road, Amelia Earhart."  

According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, she began curating The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch website in 2009. She also created her own artwork, including paintings, ceramics, motorized sculptures and furniture. Her sculptures were named after her major hits. 

She is survived by her partner, Prudence Fenton.