A globetrotting British activist and filmmaker shares the uplifting story of a Coors beer heir who rose above personal tragedy
By Shanee Edwards
Kerry David, an award-winning film producer – and now anti-poaching activist – has lived what some might call a charmed life. Though she’s poured blood, sweat and, most recently, tears into her work, amazing opportunities just seem to find her.
Hailing from England, David was bit by the travel bug as a young woman and traipsed happily all around the globe before working a temp job at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. There she learned the contract side of filmmaking but didn’t yet know she wanted to be a movie producer.
“What I did know,” says David at her Playa Vista home, “was that I had a lock-me-up crush on Tom Cruise.” So when she was offered a job to be Nicole Kidman’s executive assistant (Cruise and Kidman were married at the time), she jumped at the chance. “If they had done one ounce of due diligence on me, they never would have hired me!” says David with a laugh.
After working for the power couple for three years, she managed to build up the confidence and connections to start her own production company. “The first project that I optioned was ‘Agent Cody Banks,’ which ended up being a huge franchise, so I was super lucky.”
By 2010, however, David became disillusioned with the film industry after the financing fell out of several of her projects. Wanting to take a break she went to Africa to build an orphanage.
“In Ghana,” says David, “I spent three years producing an orphanage. We called it a Musical Village for Children, as opposed to an orphanage, because we thought that had a negative connotation. It’s probably the best thing I’ll ever do in my life.”
In 2013, David returned to filmmaking again as she went into preproduction for “Breaking their Silence: Women on the Frontline of the Poaching War,” a documentary about the African women fighting to prevent the slaughter of innocent animals. But just as she returned to the U.S. to start writing the treatment, she got a call that would affect her life in a new way.
Titan of the brewing industry and heir to the Coors Brewing Company, Bill Coors wanted to make a film about his life. In his late nineties at the time, he insisted David not only produce the film but also direct it — a new role for her.
Though she hadn’t heard of Bill Coors at the time, she quickly became intrigued as she heard his story.
“It was just heart-shattering all the things this man came back from. I immediately got this sense of the man behind the mask,” she recalls.
Bill Coors was the grandson of German immigrant Adolf Coors, who stowed away on a ship to get to America and eventually founded the Coors Brewing Company in Colorado in 1873. Bill Coors, a Princeton-educated chemical engineer, cast aside his own dream of becoming a doctor to devote himself to the family business, and almost singlehandedly turned aluminum cans into an industry standard. But his life was not without adversity.
Through interviews with Coors and other family members, the film shares details about his grandfather’s suicide and his uncle’s murder during a kidnaping attempt. Bill Coors also lost an infant son, then an adult daughter who suffered from depression and also committed suicide. It’s not surprising Coors also battled depression, but he didn’t give up on himself.
“He was determined to find out what was wrong with him and to seek a holistic solution. Even though depression didn’t have a label back then, he knew there was something very wrong with him. He went to the Mayo Clinic where they did all these tests. Physically he was in perfect form, so he knew there was something else that had to be wrong.”
Coors stopped drinking and began focusing on regular physical exercise that included exploring the great outdoors. This new lifestyle lifted his spirits, and he shared his enthusiasm for fitness with his employees, becoming an early advocate for wellness in the workplace.
When you look at all the tragedy Coors overcame, it’s easy to see how the film got its title, “Bill Coors: The Will to Live.” But the title takes on new meaning when you consider that just two hours after the film premiered in Los Angeles on Oct. 12, Coors passed away peacefully at his home in Colorado at the age of 102.
“He had the will to live just long enough to see his message and legacy birthed into the world at large before finally letting go. His message of love will now live on forever,” says David.
While every step of this project has been emotional for David, she remains humbled by the experience.
“I feel like it was fated to come to me. There was no reason I should’ve made this film — it should’ve been Ken Burns — but I’m so blessed that it came to me.”
“Bill Coors: The Will to Live” is currently streaming on Amazon and Amazon Prime and will be available on DVD in January. Look for “Breaking their Silence: Women on the Frontline of the Poaching War” in March 2019 and follow @BreakingTheirSilence on Instagram.