In 1999, Bill Wilson was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century for his role as co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. But 65 years earlier, in 1934, he had faced almost certain death from his uncontrollable drinking. At the time, medicine viewed alcoholism as a symptom of deeper psychiatric issues, and alcoholics were treated with lobotomies, shock therapy, or imprisonment. Despite this, Bill Wilson found a way to sobriety, and then forged a path for countless others to follow. With Bill as its driving force, A.A. grew from a handful of men to a worldwide fellowship of over 2 million men and women. Thousands of people throughout the world now credit him with saving their lives – both alcoholics and members of dozens of other 12 Step recovery groups. Bill’s leadership eventually made him an icon within A.A. – and a man unable to be a member of the very society he had created. Through interviews, recreations, and rare archival material, Bill W. traces Wilson’s life through his 17 years of devastating alcoholism, the crucial years of A.A.’s founding and growth, his battle with depression, his experimentation with LSD, and his struggle with celebrity status in an anonymous society. A reluctant hero, Bill Wilson lived a life of sacrifice and service, and left a legacy of recovery that continues every day, all around the world.
Bill W. took eight years of full-time work to complete. The filmmakers conducted research in dozens of archives and private collections, and interviewed A.A. members and historians in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Making a film about the founder of an anonymous society, especially one who died in 1971, presented many obstacles, of course. Very few people who knew Bill W. were still alive at the time this production began. At first, it seemed as if there would be very little visual material available for use in a film. But research and a healthy dose of good fortune allowed the producers to unearth film footage and photographs – including some that had never been seen before – and some new material that had not been included in previous written biographies of Bill Wilson. As a result, Bill W. presents a new look at the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.