Revelations & Tribulations
During a brief stint back in the States, Bill rekindled his life-long passion for making music in 1992 with his band Marblehead Johnson during the making of their first album. Having moved back early in 1992 to L A to further his career prospects, Bill returned to the UK later that year to film the now legendary third video Revelations for Channel 4. In November of that same year, he recorded and released the double CD Salvation, recorded at the Oxford Playhouse in England. Having been voted “Hot Standup Comic” by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1993, Bill’s career appeared to be picking up a steady momentum, including a number of gigs opening shows for progressive metal band Tool, during their tour of that year.
Having suffered from abdominal pains for a number of months however, Bill finally surrendered to calls from close friends to seek medical advice. On June 16th 1993, following a number of medical tests. he received the devastating news that he had pancreatic cancer. His doctor informed him, in the presence of his manager Colleen McGarr, who would later become his fiancee, he had possibly as little as three months to live in light of his diagnosis, given that the cancer had also spread to his liver.
Determined not to allow the news to blight his progress, Bill pushed forward with a renewed focus to reach new heights professionally, continuing to work to his usual uncompromising standard whilst completing weekly chemotherapy sessions at various health facilities across the U.S, whilst also recording his now famous albums Arizona Bay and Rant in E Minor. Also in the last eight months of his life, Bill filmed a pilot for a new show Counts of the Netherworld with his friend Fallon Woodward for Channel 4 in the UK. Plans were also in the pipeline to begin filming a sequel to his previous collaboration with Booth Ninja Bachelor Party, and he was fielding a number of offers to begin writing for various newspaper collumns.
Bill performed his final stand up show at Caroline’s comedy club in New York on January 6th 1994, shortly after which he moved to his parents’ house in Little Rock Arkansas following a further significant deterioration in his health.
On February 14th 1994, having up until this point only informed a few close relatives and friends of his illness, Bill telephoned his close friends to tell them he was dying, that he loved them, and to wish them well, following which he took a vow of silence for the remainder of his life. On February 26th 1994, at the age of 32, Bill died surrounded by his family at his parents’ house in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was laid to rest at the family plot in Magnolia Cemetery in Leakesville, Mississippi.
In an essay that he wrote shortly before his death, believed to be the last piece of writing completed before he died, Bill wrote:
“I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place. All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went – dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies,anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words – Vision. On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?” Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness. Amen. I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”
The reverberations of Bill Hicks’ work continue to be felt not only through his ever-increasing fan base, but in creative circles. In a UK Channel 4 poll of the 100 Greatest Stand-Up Comics, Hicks ranked 7th in March 2007, subsequently rising to 4th place in a revised 2010 version of the poll. Numerous musicians draw n Hicks’ material and influence in the creation of their work. The band Tool, who had a friendship and working alliance with Hicks during his life due to shared interests and principles, dedicated their 1996 triple platinum album Ænima to Hicks following his death. Their final album track Third Eye incorporates audio samples from Hicks’ Dangerous and Relentless albums as part of the soundtrack.
British band Radiohead also dedicated their 1995 album The Bends to Hicks’ memory.
In an article for The Guardian newspaper of March 20th 2005 entitled “It’s Perfect Madness“, American singer-songwriter Tom Waits cites Hicks’ 1997 album Rant in E Minor as one of his 20 most cherished albums of all time. Waits reports: “Bill Hicks – blowtorch, excavator, truthsayer, and brain specialist. He will correct your vision. Others will drive on the road he built.”
To mark the 10th anniversary of Hicks death, Stephen Pound, MP for Ealing North in the UK scheduled an early day motion on February 25th 2004 entitled “Anniversary of the Death of Bill Hicks” which read:
“That this House notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worth of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.”
Although recorded toward the end of Bill’s life, the albums Arizona Bay and Rant in E Minor were not mastered and published until 1997. Since this time, the Hicks family estate have released a number of further works, which include a number of previously unreleased versions of Bill’s material, including those collected within the compilation albums Philosophy (2001), Flying Saucer Tour (2002) and Love, Laughter and Truth (2002). A number of DVDs have also been released since his death by the Hicks family estate including One Night Stand (2002), Sane Man (2005), Relentless (2006) and Bill Hicks: The Complete Collection (2015).
On October 9th 1993, Bill recorded his 12th scheduled appearance on CBS’s Late Night with David Letterman. According to Bill’s retrospective reports, his appearance had been “approved and re-approved” prior to it’s recording by the show’s producers, and he had been congratulated on the quality of his performance by members of the Letterman crew, before departing the show’s set, following the recording of his performance, Despite this, a short time after leaving the set, Bill received a call from the show to say that his performance had been cut in its entirety from the schedule and would not be shown in the final broadcast. Bill reported in a number of interviews following the incident that although no clear reason appeared to have been given for the cutting of his performance, he believed it had been cut due to the inclusion of pro life jokes and a joke which involved the mentioning of Jesus. Prior to this incident, Bill’s previous performances on the Letterman show had been met with a generally positive reception, without controversy, apart from an appearance he made on the show on November 15th 1984, during which Bill appeared to include in his performance a joke which he had been asked not to cover as part of his performance. The inclusion of this joke had resulted in a section of his performance being deleted from his wider performance within the final broadcast.
On January 30th 2009, Bill’s mother, Mary Hicks,appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. She was invited onto the show with the intention of reflecting on Bill’s life and work and to watch, in its entirety, a broadcast of the performance which had been deleted from the October 1993 show. Letterman offered Mary Hicks an apology “for the heartache and sadness that my decision caused to you and your family” in addition to reporting that the decision to delete the 1993 performance had been his and referred to his decision as “an error of judgement”.