Actor And Avid GA Pilot Treat Williams Mourned Following Motorcycle Accident


General aviation is mourning the loss of actor and pilot Treat Williams, 71, who died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident yesterday (June 12) near his home in Vermont. According to local police, a car crossed over into the oncoming lane where Williams was riding, causing the collision. Williams suffered internal injuries and was airlifted to a hospital, but according to his agent of 20 years Barry McPherson, “They just couldn’t save him.”

Williams, who began taking flying lessons from his football coach in Connecticut in 1969, had logged more than 10,000 hours on a series aircraft he owned. The first, a clip-wing Piper Cub, cost $3,000, which he earned performing in the Broadway musical “Grease.” At the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, Williams told a reporter, “I got all the ratings. I went straight up from private, commercial, and then I got my helicopter [rating], commercial flight instructor.”

Williams was honored at the recent “Living Legends of Aviation” awards in California along with fellow actor/pilot John Travolta. The biography on the organization’s website notes his 40 years as a pilot and ownership over time of, among other aircraft, a Piper Cherokee 180, Piper Seneca, Piper Navajo Chieftain, and a World War II-vintage North American AT-6. He was also type-rated in Cessna Citation jets.

For all his accomplishments on stage, screen and in the air, Williams is also fondly remembered in the general aviation community for his warm personality and kindness. He wrote the children’s book “Air Show!” to reflect a child’s view of the wonder of flight. Aviation photographer Jeff Berlin, whose portrait of Williams accompanies this story and who knew him, wrote on Facebook, “Amazing talent but an even better human. So many great memories. Blue skies, my friend, blue skies. This one hurts.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. That’s terrible news. Not much you can do when someone turns left without seeing you on your bike.

  2. So much for people thinking GA airplanes are dangerous! I hope a certain Avweb editor-emeritus is paying attention.

  3. May your eternal skies be CAVU Mr Williams!
    “The flight west is a final check we must all take” (Author unknown)

  4. I’ve got more than a few hours in an airplane, but none on a motorcycle. They look really fun but they’re just too dangerous.

  5. Every single person I’ve personally known that rides a motorcycle has had a serious accident with life altering injuries. 100%. Fortunately none of them have died.

    • You don’t know me. I’ve been riding for over 55 years and never had an accident. In the last 19 years I’ve ridden my current bike, a Harley, for just shy of 139,000 miles. It’s all about being responsible and riding far ahead of the bike (like being ahead of the airplane, but more so). That said, there’s no avoiding that person who is not playing his role in traffic (or aviation) safety.

      Blue skies, Mr. Williams.

  6. It only takes a moment of inattention, usually by those whom bikers call ‘cage drivers’, and those on 2 wheels pay the price and the dent in the fender gets popped out by a paintless dent removal truck.

    47 years of safe riding on my part…70-something cage driver runs a red light at strip mall exit and guess who was sprawled on the pavement? Luckily, only an ankle injury that took months to NOT hurt like the dickens when pressing on the clutch, a ruined bike, and decision that there are too many stupid people who should not be behind the wheel (and I was kitted in leathers, flourescent yellow-green riding jacket, high beams on, and wearing a helmet…no way the dolt could miss me…but she did).

    I consider myself lucky. Sold what was left of the bike, gave away the riding kit. It was fun while it lasted, but don’t need to amplify the risk anymore.

    Blue skies, Mr. Williams. You will be missed.

  7. Tragic news. Treat Williams was not only multi-talented but a lovely human being, often at aviation events. Motorcyles are primarily dangerous because of the other driver. The aviation community lost beloved aerobatic pilot Leo Loudenslager this way.

  8. Motorcycles and GA were both put on about a par I’ve read one AOPA opinion writer say once.
    I’m inclined to agree but I’d lean towards motorcycles as more unsafe just by virtue of the ‘other guy/gal’. Nobody seems to give a $..t about anyone else anymore, racing to be the first one to the red light.

    • While tragic, who could argue with living a good rewarding life and then going out on a classic motorcycle at age 71? He “had a good run” and we’ll miss him.

      • It would have been better had he “gone out” at age 99 while “riding” a 35 year old trophy wife. Very sad. He was a great guy. Loved his movie roles, but I think he was greatly under appreciated by directors and producers.

  9. I was a dedicated dirt biker for many years and had my share of injuries. My argument with street bikers who said dirt bikes were too dangerous was that “I’m more likely to get hurt, but you are more likely to get killed.” Nevertheless, I did some street riding and assumed that every car on the road was out to kill me, so I expected and anticipated stupid moves. I counted on that and my dirt skills to keep me alive. I always thought dirt bikers made better street riders.

  10. Yes, even with the right mindset (always leave yourself an out, position yourself to be seen, expect that whoever can is going to move into your space, etc.), there are some you just can’t do anything about except pray. Like pulling out or turning in front of you at the last second, etc.

    I was taking flying lessons when I got my first motorcycle. Unfortunately my first ride on it was in rush hour traffic to get it to a friend’s apartment (since the fed’l gov’t deemed it unsafe for me to ride it on an installation without a safety course, and thus I couldn’t keep it there, lol).

    I remember thinking “I feel more safe in an airplane by myself than on this thing right now”, or to that effect.

    Lots of pleasurable hours doing that since, on a number of different bikes, a few scares (a couple in planes too…). You understand the risks and mitigate them as able. A little bit of danger is almost a requirement for some people…