Victor Willis co-wrote Village People hits like “In the Navy,” “YMCA,” and “Macho Man,” earning millions each year in royalties. The disco group was essentially founded in 1978 by French music producer Jacques Morali, who cast former Broadway star Willis to front the band as singer and songwriter.
The singer launched a comeback of sorts in 2007 with his first concert performances in over a decade and a planned autobiography. Willis has claimed the Village People fired him in 1980 for being the lone heterosexual member.
“Victor Willis wrote about the YMCA and having fun there,” his publicist said in a 2007 press release, “but the type of fun he was talking about was straight fun. When he says, ‘Hang out with all the boys’…he’s talking about the boys, the fellas, but it’s one of those ambiguous songs that was taken that way because of the gay association with Village People.”
Willis briefly reunited with the People between 1982 and 1984. He spent the next 20-plus years refusing to perform Village People songs or do interviews. He was once married to Cosby Show vet Phylicia Rashad, who later wed (and divorced) sportscaster Ahmad Rashad.
He became engaged to a woman named Karen, who he met in the 1990s at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. They shared a home in La Jolla for a time and later married. In March 2007, a New York woman claiming to be a former girlfriend of Willis' allegedly showed up unannounced at his residence. The woman later told police that Willis had assaulted and choked her, but city attorneys declined to press charges.
In 2010, Willis was living in La Jolla and turning up frequently at La Mesa’s Guitar Center and downtown’s East Village Tavern and Bowl. That year, he relocated to NYC.
In May 2011, Willis filed a lawsuit against the firm representing his former band the Village People for $1.5 million in song royalties he claims are unpaid. The 59 year-old directed the suit against Can't Stop Productions, which handles the rights to those songs. Willis has also reportedly been seeking the master recordings of an unreleased solo album he recorded after leaving the Village People.
In early 2012, Willis filed court papers in San Diego to test a 1976 law that lets creators regain U.S. copyrights to their works in what the Songwriters Guild of America predicted will provide a precedent for “many termination claims that will be filed in the coming years.”
A few weeks later, US District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz dismissed a lawsuit initiated by the France-based publisher of Village People songs, which was seeking to stop Willis from recovering the copyrights he signed over some 35 years previous.
In Autumn 2013, Willis won his “termination rights” court copyright case, with a San Diego judge upholding a 1976 law that lets creators regain U.S. copyrights to works they once signed away, in this case including songs like “Y.M.C.A.,” “In the Navy” and “Go West.”
His unreleased 1979 album Solo Man was finally released in summer 2015 on his own Harlem West Music Group label.
In 2017, Willis mended fences with co-founding bandmate Henri Belolo and announced plans to rejoin the group for the first time in 35 years to perform shows celebrating the 40th anniversary of their debut.