Today is the anniversary of the death of the great visionary comedian Bill Hicks, who, like fellow performer Andy Kaufman, shocked everyone by dying of cancer unexpectedly because he'd told almost no one.
After being diagnosed with cancer, Hicks would often joke that any given performance would be his last. The public, however, was unaware of Hicks's condition. Only a few close friends and family members knew of his disease. Hicks performed the actual final show of his career at Caroline's in New York on January 6, 1994. He moved back to his parents' house in Little Rock, Arkansas, shortly thereafter. He called his friends to say goodbye, before he stopped speaking on February 14, and re-read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. He spent time with his parents, playing them the music he loved and showing them documentaries about his interests. He died of cancer in the presence of his parents at 11:20 p.m. on February 26, 1994. He was 32 years old.
What made Hicks so special to me was that he was that rare breed of comedian who got the mix of snarkiness, spirituality and shibboleths just right, not too hot and not too cold, not too bland and not too spicy. He himself described his intellectual-asshole routine as "Chomsky with dick jokes."
Many have lauded Hicks for sneaking in little nuggets of truth about the JFK assassination and the New World Order, but I appreciate him most for sneaking in ludicrous-sounding-but-true concepts like hillbilly aliens and the illusory nature of reality.
Just as Andy Kaufman left behind a legacy of conspiracy-theory that he faked his own death, so does Bill Hicks. There's been a recent spate of online kookery about Bill Hicks having faked his own death in order to assume the identity of the great Prison Planet host, Alex Jones. Apparently the basis for this is that they had some business connections in common and they kinda look vaguely similar.
Hicks was an unrepentant drunkard for the first part of his career, but surprised everyone by going clean, just to prove he could. Even after going straight-edge though, he still openly endorsed his former lifestyle for others, especially to those who had not yet walked the path he had. And tonight at Ernesto's I'll be lifting a frozen margarita to Mr. Bill in his honor. Hicks remained a tobacco enthusiast to the day he died, and I'll also send some smoke signals his way from Ern's smoking parlor (that is to say, the parking lot).
- - JSH