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New Documentary ‘Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive’ Reveals Singer’s Tumultuous Life Journey

See her inspiring story in theaters only on February 13th!

Looking for some entertainment on Galentine’s Day that will leave you and your friends inspired and uplifted? The new Gloria Gaynor documentary, Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive, A Journey of Faith, Hope and a Magnificent Second Act, hits theaters for one night only on February 13 via Fathom Events.

Chronicling the life of the Grammy-winning Disco Queen whose signature song, “I Will Survive”, has become an anthem of empowerment for generations, the documentary premiered to rave reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival last June. It then won the 2023 Nashville Film Festival Audience Award after earning two standing ovations.

Directed by Storyville Entertainment’s Betsy Schechter, the documentary shares the triumphs and challenges of Gloria Gaynor as she recalls her tumultuous life, including paralysis, her sister’s murder and a traumatic 25-year marriage that ended in divorce. Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive is the inspiring story of a woman whose faith sustained her through many storms, and now at 80, she’s happier and busier than she’s ever been.

Portrait of Gloria Gaynor, 2023
Portrait of Gloria Gaynor, 2023

Gaynor tells Woman’s World of the documentary. “I wanted to share with people the idea that we all have problems. I’m not exempt. We have the same kinds of problems, situations and circumstances in our lives that sometimes we think are insurmountable, but we will survive. So I wanted to share how I have survived these things.”

For Schechter, it was a labor of love to bring Gaynor’s story to the screen. “I have been on this journey with Gloria Gaynor since 2015, a journey that was unexpected and inspiring in the most profound ways,”Schechter says. “We started filming without knowing how the film would end, which was exhilarating especially because what happened was beyond what we could imagine for the film and for Gloria. My hope and Gloria’s hope through this film is to show the world that no matter what challenges you may face, you can not only survive but thrive.”

Gloria Gaynor with director Betsy Schechter, 2023
Gloria Gaynor with director Betsy Schechter, 2023

Gloria Gaynor living life to the fullest

Gaynor is indeed thriving these days. She recently returned from Saudi Arabia where she performed at the Joy Awards, which found her rubbing elbows with Kevin Costner, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Martin Lawrence, Bebe Rexha, John Cena, Jean Reno, Eva Longoria and Mark Wahlberg.

She also recently partnered with Shopify to launch a new merch store that features inspirational clothing and home goods. The iconic singer toured Europe extensively in 2023, including performing with Andrea Bocelli in Tuscany at a special benefit for Bocelli’s foundation. Most recently, Gaynor has been settling into the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey home she designed herself and brought to completion with the help of an architect and contractor.

Gloria Gaynor healing through her faith

Gaynor is appreciative of the life she lives these days, especially after the health issues she’s overcome. A fall on stage at a theater in New York City left her paralyzed from the waist down and she struggled to regain her mobility. Her faith was her lifeline.

“I was in the hospital for 3 ½ months and came out of the hospital with nowhere to physically go and nowhere to go as far as my career was concerned. That was a huge challenge,” Gaynor admits. “But I kept repeating, ‘God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, power and of sound mind.’ I kept holding onto different scriptures like that and just really believing them to be true and believing that this was a matter of time.”

During that time, Gaynor says she refused to wallow in self-pity. “I was to be preparing myself for whatever God was going to do afterwards,” she explains, “so I was in constant prayer and constantly trying to allow God to lead me to what he would have me do during the interim, in the wilderness as we say, What am I to do? How am I to grow? How am I to prepare myself for what you have for me next?

Gloria Gaynor performing onstage, 2023
Gloria Gaynor documentary, performing onstage, 2023Medios y Media/Getty

Overcoming her greatest heartbreak

Another terrible chapter in her life that Gloria Gaynor shares in the documentary is the murder of her sister, Irma Proctor. “She died the way she lived and by that I mean she was always helping people. She was just that kind of person,” Gaynor says.

Gaynor describes how Irma was on her way to the store on Thanksgiving morning, going to get cranberry sauce and she met a neighbor along the way and started chatting. “They didn’t know each other, but they knew from just seeing each other in the neighborhood,” Gaynor recalls. “This fellow came up and started talking to the other woman and my sister continued walking. Then she heard them yelling and when she turned around, the guy was beating the woman. My sister went back to assist, and he ended up killing her.”

“He was brought to justice,” Gaynor continues. “He was put in jail and when he did get out — I don’t even remember now how many years later. He didn’t serve the full sentence, but he served a lot of years — he looked up [the family] to tell that he was sorry he did it because he was only 18 years old and that he was sorry for what he had done.”

Gaynor admits it wasn’t easy to relive that tragedy in the documentary, but that “It was cathartic, just kind of getting rid of some of the scar tissue because again, my purpose is to help people understand how you can overcome and get through all of these trials and tribulations that we go through in life.”

Gloria Gaynor talks going gospel in new documentary

One of the more intriguing parts of the documentary follows Gaynor as she creates her Grammy winning 2019 album Testimony. “I had been wanting to do a gospel album for years,” Gaynor says.  “It was something that was on my heart and my previous management kept saying, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea. Let’s do that as soon as we finish this or as soon as we finish that, stalling and putting me off. . . Of course, the record labels were not interested at all in a disco singer who suddenly wanted to sing gospel music because, I think, that many times they are afraid that is just a whim, something you want to be able to say you did and score brownie points with God, not really living or believing what you are singing. That is so not true of me, but I had no way of making them know and understand.”

She decided to record the album independently and enlisted Jason Crabb, Yolanda Adams, Mike Farris and MercyMe’s Bart Millard as special guests.

“I decided, ‘I’m going to do this on my own and if it’s what God wants me to do then it will come to fruition,’ and it did,” she smiles. “Not only did it come to fruition, it won a Grammy which was so validating and so encouraging for me because this comes from your peers. It comes from people who know in the business what it means and what it takes to do a work like that. So it was very, very encouraging and validating for me. I was very happy about that. . . I wanted people to hear my faith in these songs.  I wanted them to be uplifted, encouraged and inspired which is just my life. It’s how I live my life.”

Gaynor holds her Grammy for Testimony, 2020
Gloria Gaynor documentary holds her Grammy for Testimony, 2020 Alberto E. Rodriguez/The Recording Academy/Getty

Gaynor is happy the documentary focuses on her music, particularly Testimony. “There’s no better way to share your feelings, thoughts, hopes, your dreams, your aspirations, your accomplishments than through music,” she shares. “There’s no better way to get people to hear and understand what you’re trying to say to them. It was just something that I really wanted to do to share with people through my music what I’ve lived through.”

What she’s doing next

Gaynor is currently working on new music and has recorded two new songs, “Reaching for the Gold” and “Glory is Waiting,” which both sound like they would be perfect soundtracks for the Olympics.

“We definitely had that in mind, just thinking about all the Olympic hopefuls,” Gaynor says. “They are all reaching for the gold, but in all our lives we are always reaching for the gold, in our relationships, in our jobs, in our personal lives. We are all reaching for the gold and reaching to be the best that we can be, the best version of ourselves. That’s what we ought to be doing. So to have that music, just to think of that when you are toughing it out, it’s something I think can help you keep going.”

It’s hard to believe her megahit “I Will Survive,” was released in way back in 1978 because at 80, Gaynor is still youthful and energetic, qualities she credits to “good genes and Jesus.”

“I Will Survive” has more than 407 millions streams on Spotify and Gaynor still loves singing the inspiring anthem. “I never get tired of singing it because that song is the one that I can rely to help me do what I’ve always wanted to do from the very onset of my career and that is to always give the audience something that will last beyond the duration of the concert.” 

She’s hoping people will enjoy the documentary and take the hopeful message it shares to heart if they are in the midst of challenges. “This situation that you’re going through is not who you are,” she says. “It’s just something that is happening to you, and you need to assess yourself. You need to pray and ask God’s help to help you see your way through it because there is always a way through.”

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