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In Appreciation: Treat Williams

Treat Williams, who drew wide attention with distinctive performances in the film version of “Hair” in 1979 and the police drama “Prince of the City” two years later before settling into a steady career in film and television that included a four-season run on the WB series “Everwood,” died on Monday in a motorcycle accident in Dorset, Vt. He was 71.

Mr. Williams was killed shortly before 5 p.m. when an S.U.V. that was southbound on Route 30 near the Vermont-New York border turned left into a parking lot and into the path of the Honda motorcycle driven by Mr. Williams, the Vermont State Police said in a statement.

Mr. Williams was “unable to avoid a collision and was thrown from his motorcycle,” the statement said.

Mr. Williams, who was wearing a helmet, was pronounced dead at a medical center in Albany, N.Y., after being airlifted there, the state police said. The 35-year-old man whose vehicle hit Mr. Williams was not hospitalized.

Mr. Williams was a familiar face in the movies and on TV, accumulating some 130 credits while also occasionally working on the stage. It was a stage performance that landed him his breakout role in “Hair” — he was a replacement player in the role of Danny Zuko in the long-running Broadway production of “Grease” in the 1970s, and when the film director Milos Forman saw him in that show, he invited him to take the role of the hippie Berger in his film of “Hair,” based on the rock stage musical of the 1960s.

Berger was a mop-topped rebel, and Mr. Williams had some help from the makeup department in creating his portrayal.

“All that hair in ‘Hair’ wasn’t my own,” he told The New York Times in 1980. “A lot of it was woven into my own hair right at the scalp. If I moved the wrong way in my sleep, I’d pull it and make my scalp bleed.”

His energetic performance impressed critics.

“As his name might indicate,” Janet Maslin wrote in The Times, “Treat Williams is one of the better things ‘Hair’ has to offer. Mr. Williams, who plays the leader of the film’s small and bedraggled band of hippies, is the only one of the players who really suggests the spirit of euphoria upon which the original ‘Hair’ meant to capitalize.”

Mr. Williams’s performance in “Hair” drew the attention of Sidney Lumet, who was preparing to direct “Prince of the City,” a fictionalized version of the story of Robert Leuci, a New York City detective who exposed corruption in the police department. Mr. Lumet told Newsweek in 1981 that Mr. Williams’s performance in “Hair” displayed “a life force, a kind of inner energy, bouncing off the screen.” He cast him in the lead role in “Prince of the City,” a demanding one.

“Williams is almost always onscreen,” Roger Ebert, film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times, wrote, “and almost always in situations of extreme stress, fatigue and emotional turmoil. We see him coming apart before our eyes.”

Such performances landed Mr. Williams on the cover of Newsweek in December 1981. He was pictured alongside William Hurt and Elizabeth McGovern. The headline was “A New Breed of Actor.”

“Versatility is a mark of the new breed,” the accompanying article said, “and Treat Williams is one of its most versatile.” About the time “Prince of the City” was being released, it noted, Mr. Williams was stepping into the role of the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance” on Broadway, replacing Kevin Kline, who had won a Tony Award for his portrayal.

Versatility kept Mr. Williams working steadily for the next four decades. He played doctors, law enforcement officials, various villains, assorted military officers, lovable father figures. In “Confirmation” (2016), an HBO docudrama about the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Clarence Thomas, he played Senator Edward M. Kennedy. One of his most recent movies was “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square,” a holiday film for Netflix in which he played opposite Ms. Parton and sang a song she wrote, “Memories.”