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The first line in the new documentary Bill Coors: The Will to Live is, “At the age of a hundred, you’ve seen and heard about everything.” And William “Bill” Kistler Coors certainly did: Over the course of his 102 years, the former chairman of Adolph Coors Co. put Golden on the map by growing a relatively small brewery to one of the most well-known brands in the world, providing ceramic insulators for the Manhattan Project, via the Coors Porcelain Company, and playing an instrumental role in the development of recyclable aluminum cans for beer and other beverages. (Not all of Coors’ policies were well received; boycotts over his company’s anti-union stance and alleged discriminatory hiring practices took place in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.) Yet some of his most impactful ventures were actually lesser-known, including his contributions toward establishing the Colorado Outward Bound School for youth, and his creation of the Coors Wellness Center for his employees—the latter long before workplace wellness became the buzzword it is today.
This emphasis on health and fitness continued nearly up until the day Coors died on October 13—and is the driving theme of Bill Coors: The Will to Live, a poignant film that delves into Coors’ drive to promote what his son, Scott, terms “spiritual wellness.” In advance of the documentary’s Denver premiere (it runs October 19–25 at Harkins Northfield 18 in Stapleton and the Sloan’s Lake location of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema), we chatted with Scott to better understand his father’s passion for holistic health and the legacy Bill left behind.
Before Bill passed away…
5280: How did the film come about?
Scott Coors: There was a production company that was filming basically a public relations piece for the Adolph Coors Foundation. This company was impressed with my father and his life and thought it would make great material for a PBS documentary. That’s where the conversation started, but they were a very young firm and got in over their head fairly quickly. They dropped out midway through, so we were left hanging. Eventually, we found Kerry David. She crafted a story that tried to integrate the struggles my father had with anxiety and depression from 30 years ago and make it relevant to teenagers and young adults today.
What do you think prompted his mental health challenges?
A big theme of the film was that his parents never really showed any emotion whatsoever. He always craved love and never got it. Then his first son choked to death when he was 20 months old; my half-sister committed suicide; his grandfather committed suicide; and his brother was kidnapped and murdered. Just one of those things would be devastating to any one of us, but all of them combined…
What did he do to try to solve his problems?
You see this in the film: His father sent him to the Mayo Clinic in search of answers, and they said, ‘The good news is there’s nothing wrong with you. The bad news is we have no idea how to help you.’ They were kind of amazed that so many people had come to them with this same problem. This was back in the ’50s and ’60s when depression wasn’t really diagnosed. The medical community couldn’t do anything for him, so he started looking for answers in other places, from transcendental meditation to fitness and exercise and eating right and nutrition and vitamins and chiropractic care. There were so many things he explored in a quest to try to heal himself.
Did that focus on health continue into his later years?
He meditates still every day. He had a rowing machine that he was on every day until about six months ago. He just doesn’t have the stamina for it any more.
How did your parents pass along that focus on holistic health to you?
As this kid in college, I wanted this fancy Toyota sports car and my parents thought about it and thought about it. They said, ‘We’re going to make a deal with you. As long as you commit to working out and keeping your body healthy and getting exercise at least three times a week for the rest of your life, you can have the car.’ Oddly enough, the silly car came and went. But the message stuck with me.
What do you hope people take away from the documentary?
A lot of times, we look at these people who’ve been successful all their lives and think that life has just been easy for them. Personally, I have a big disdain for social media because all it ever shows is how great everyone’s life is. People get delusions that they’re the only ones who struggle, but we all struggle. The documentary helps show that even this titan of industry was grasping for anything he could to maintain his will to live, just like people do today.
Once Bill passed away…
What were his final weeks like?
He was in the hospital with pneumonia a few weeks ago. He overcame the infections, but it left him so weak. He would have a good day and then a really bad day and then a really good day. We had our Los Angeles premiere on Friday evening, and he passed about 2:15 the next morning while one of his caregivers was holding his hand. We knew it was going to happen—obviously it happens to all of us—so if it had to happen, this was the way he should go.
How would you describe his legacy?
He left it for his family, specifically, but also all those he touched. It’s one of being true to yourself and being good to others—trying to, as he says in the film, radiate connection to others. I think he didn’t really experience a lot of our electronic friendships as I call them, but I think he would advocate real friendships: real people who can actually put an arm around each other when they’re down, give each other a hug when they’re down.
How are you feeling about the documentary now?
It was almost kind of poetic. He was ready; he knew his work was done, and it was time to hand it over to us to get the message out. I always knew it would be special but now that he’s gone, I watched it again. It’s so nice to have that piece of him going forward.