Peter Allen Biography

Peter Allen Woolnough, 10 February 1944, Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia, d. 18 June 1992, San Diego, California, USA. A popular singer, dancer, and the composer of several memorable songs during the 70s and 80s. Allen was singing and playing in what became his frenetic and extrovert trademark manner in local pubs while in his mid-teens. After moving to Sydney in 1959, he formed the Allen Brothers with Chris Bell, and they became popular for a time on Australian television. Allen’s big break came in June 1964 when he was part of a trio appearing in the Starlight Room at the Hong Kong Hilton. He was spotted by Mark Herron, the future husband of Judy Garland, and Garland herself was so impressed that she invited the trio to support her in concerts around the world. Allen married Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli in 1967, but they were divorced three years later. He subsequently developed a highly individual cabaret act, as well as composing songs for a variety of artists, including Olivia Newton-John and Helen Reddy, both of whom had roots in Allen’s native country. Jeff Barry, who had consistently provided hit songs for acts such as the Dixie Cups, Ray Peterson and Manfred Mann, worked with Allen on Reddy’s ‘I’ve Been Wanting You So Long’, and ‘I Honestly Love You’, which topped the US chart for Newton-John, and gained her a Grammy award. However, his most frequent and successful collaborator was Carole Bayer Sager. They were responsible for ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’ (US Top 10 in 1979 for Melissa Manchester), ‘I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love’ (US Top 40 for Rita Coolidge in 1980), and ‘Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On The Stage’, a tribute to Judy Garland. For his signature song, ‘I Go To Rio’, Allen joined with fellow Australian Angry Anderson. He later won an Academy Award, and was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)’, which he wrote with Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross and Sager. Cross sang it in the immensely popular Dudley Moore -Liza Minnelli comedy film, Arthur (1981). During the 80s, Allen played several sold-out seasons at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, and his flamboyant autobiographical show, Up In One - More Than A Concert, proved a long-runner. ‘His forté’, wrote one critic, ‘is the implication of a kind of benign, yet subtly malicious decadence.’ For many years Allen juggled a career on both sides of the Pacific, having several more Australian hits, including the memorable song for homesick down-under emigrants, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, and the wistful homage to his own home town, ‘Tenterfield Saddler’. In 1988, he co-wrote (with Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon) and starred in the Broadway musical Legs Diamond. In 1996, four years after his death from an AIDS-related illness, a documentary, The Boy From Oz, was released on video. The title was used again for a $3 million bio-musical, written by Nick Enright, which opened in Sydney, Australia, in March 1998. Set around an imaginary concert in that city, Todd McKenney portrayed Allen in a production that drew extensively on the singer-songwriter’s catalogue. Allen had played his own final concert appearances to packed houses in Sydney in January 1992.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.