Obituary: Bill Hicks

William M. (Bill) Hicks, comedian: born 16 September 1961; died Little Rock, Arkansas 26 February 1994.

BILL HICKS was one of the most provocative and independent comedians in the United States, but it was on the British stand-up circuit that he found his natural and most enthusiastic audience.

Hicks made his mark in Britain in 1991 at the Edinburgh Festival, where he won the Critics Award. He followed this up in 1992 with two sell-out tours culminating in a show at the Dominion Theatre in London which was broadcast by Channel 4 and titled Revelations.

On stage Hicks was a pacing demagogue, unexpectedly shifting gear from gentle conversation to lurid, contorted characters such as the libidinous goat boy, from intimate confession to a compelling onslaught on his chosen target. Never a joke-teller, he generated humour with his distinctively frank take on life. 'You know what we should have done,' he said. 'Instead of bombing the Iraqis, we should have embarrassed them. We should have assassinated Bush.'

Hicks began his comedy career at the age of 13, sneaking out to perform at all-comers' nights at the Comedy Workshop in Houston. In 1991 his controversial tour de force brought him to attention at the Just for Laughs Montreal International Comedy Festival.

He was always outspoken but never fell into the trap of being politically correct. He lambasted the hypocrisies of the Gulf war, of American gun law and of the pro- life movement but was never afraid to expose the biological details of his own sexual fantasies.

His reputation in the United States was confirmed last October when, after 11 previous appearances, his act was cut after recording from The David Letterman Show as it purportedly touched 'too many hot spots'. Although shaken by being dropped from Letterman's show, Hicks at the same time gained a new conviction in what he had to say. Apparently it was his jibes at pro-lifers that caused him to be removed from the programme: 'You know what bugs me about them? If you're so pro-life, do me a favour - don't lock arms and block medical clinics. If you're so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries . . . I want to see pro-lifers at funerals opening caskets and shouting, 'Get out]' '

Hicks had endured the rigours of the relentless one-night comedy circuit with some support from drink, drugs and cigarettes. (He reckoned that he had performed around 270 nights a year for the last five years.) He became famous for his pro-smoking humour and even after he 'went clean' was fervent in his advocacy of careful use of cannabis and magic mushrooms.

Hicks's trademark was his all-black wardrobe which, combined with his style of humour, led to him often being affectionately referred to as 'The Prince of Darkness'. However, in the last year of his life, he decided to move into more autumnal colours. At the same time the range and vision of his comedy was expanding - he was increasingly concentrating on writing, screenplays and journalism; he recently wrote a column for Scallywag and had been offered a column on the American periodical the Nation.

At the time of his death he was about to start a pilot for a Channel 4 series, The Counts of the Netherworld, which he had devised to feature himself and another US comedian, Fallon Woodland. The two men were to appear in retreat from the modern world, philosophising and fooling in an 18th-century salon. The series was to be the fulfilment of his ambition, an attack on what he saw as a world media conspiracy to produce uncontroversial television, programmes whose only function was to soften up the viewers in preparation for the commercials.

Despite his dark, intense performance, offstage Hicks's intelligence and gentleness earned him loyalty and respect from friends and fans alike. He often referred to himself as a failed rock guitarist but he recently recorded two new comedy albums with a musical score which he composed and played.

At a meeting last November, Bill was burning with new ideas. 'Why do you have to be so angry?' he was asked. 'This isn't anger, this is me, this is passion.' His death from pancreatic cancer, at the age of 32, has robbed comedy of a uniquely passionate talent.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game