ou often hear Bill Hicks – born Dec. 16, 1961, died Feb. 26, 1994 – described as the heir to Lenny Bruce's throne, and it's not just hyperbole; it's true. While Bill never could've happened without Lenny blazing the trail first, there's no question that Bill consciously and unabashedly followed in Lenny's footsteps by offering social commentary in the guise of stand-up comedy, providing audiences with his opinions and – as you already know if you've heard any of his recordings – not really giving a shit one way or the other if they agree with him or not. (In fact, that kind of reaction generally resulted in getting a better performance out of him…even if the philistines in attendance didn't realize it.)

Hicks was born in Valdosta, Georgia, and spent various portions of his childhood in Florida, Alabama, and New Jersey, before his family settled in Houston, Texas. (The fact that he was raised in the Southern Baptist faith came up more than once in his routines.) He started appearing at Houston's Comedy Workshop before he was even 18 years old, which, given the nightclub setting, meant that he had to get a special work permit to perform; as professional comedians came through on their tours, Hicks would regularly quiz them about the business, a fact which Jay Leno remembered in the documentary on Hicks, entitled "It's Just a Ride."

When Hicks made the move to Los Angeles in 1980, the world became his oyster…well, except for the whole "becoming rich and famous" thing. An attempt at a sitcom pilot – entitled "Bulba" – proved a miserable failure; still, he was playing the Comedy Store in Hollywood, at a time when his peers were Andrew Dice Clay, Jerry Seinfeld, and Garry Shandling…but, come 1982, the novelty of not really getting anywhere had worn off, and it was back to Houston. The comedy continued, but much of it became fueled by drugs and alcohol; still, it's hard to argue with the initial results, since, in 1984, Hicks made his first appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman." In '87, he got arguably the biggest break of his career when Rodney Dangerfield invited him to appear on his "Young Comedians Special." Hicks moved to New York City, where he would live for the next five years, and – in 1988 – he kicked both drugs and alcohol. (Despite this, however, he would still gladly assure people that he had had some really great times while under the influence.)

The '90s were definitely Hicks' glory years. He released two albums – Dangerous and Relentless. He toured the UK, where he was widely embraced. (On a personal note, I was introduced to Hicks in '92 when, while at a concert in England, a security guard heard my accent and said, "Oh, you're American, then! Have you heard of Bill 'Icks? Ah, he's brilliant!") The band Tool was such a huge fan of Hicks that they had him open for them on a few of their Lollapalooza dates.

In April of 1993, however, Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He continued to perform, though it's safe to say that his routines became progressively angrier in the last few months. (To be fair, most probably wouldn't have been able to tell; Hicks was never the most sedate of comedians.) He even put together another sitcom pilot – this one for Channel 4, in the UK – called "Counts of the Netherworld." The moment that got him the most press, however, was what would be his last appearance on Letterman's show, one which never even made it to air because the content was arguably too controversial. (Hicks suggested that pro-lifers, rather than going after medical centers, should "lock arms and block cemeteries.") No one will take credit for giving Hicks' segment the boot, but given that Letterman was such a huge fan, one would like to think it was a decision that came from higher up…if not quite as high as the decision to yank Hicks from existence altogether on February 26, 1994.

Hicks' passing was definitely a "ye left us too soon" moment, but his memory lives on, both in his recordings as well as those he inspired. Radiohead dedicated their album The Bends to him. Super Furry Animals wrote a song about him ("God! Show Me Magic"), and he's been sampled in songs by everyone from Pitchshifter to Unwritten Law. The best tribute, however, came from writer Garth Ennis, who made Hicks a major influence on the title character in his comic book, "Preacher." When the series ended, it closed with this quote from our man Bill:

"I was told when I grew up I could be anything I wanted: a fireman, a policeman, a doctor – even President, it seemed. And for the first time in the history of mankind, something new, called an astronaut. But like so many kids brought up on a steady diet of Westerns, I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero – that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. And in my heart of hearts I still track the remnants of that dream wherever I go, in my endless ride into the setting sun…"

Essential Albums

Certainly, the two which were actually released during Hicks' lifetime – Dangerous and Relentless – are classics by most any definition. Beyond that, consider the two-disc Salvation, which emerged in 2005, but keep in mind that there's some crossover in material with most of the posthumously-released material. That having been said, it's all pretty damned funny.

Comedy Discography

Dangerous (1990)

Relentless (1991)

Arizona Bay (1997)

Rant in E-Minor (1997)

Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks (2001)

Flying Saucer Tour, Vol. 1 (2002)

Love, Laughter and Truth (2002)

Shock and Awe (2003)

Salvation: Oxford – November 11, 1992 (2005)


Bill Hicks Live – Satirist, Social Critic,
Stand-Up Comedian

Bill Hicks – Sane Man (2005)


"Ninja Bachelor Party" (1991)


"American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story" (2002)

"Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines" (2004)

"What Would Bill Hicks Say?" (2005)

"Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution" (2005)

Famous Last Words

I smoke. If this bothers anyone, I recommend you look around the world in which we live ... and shut your fucking mouth!

The worst kind of non-smokers are the ones that come up to you and cough. That's pretty fucking cruel isn't it? Do you go up to cripples and dance too?

People come up to me: 'Bill, quit talking about Kennedy man…it was a long time ago.' And I'm like, alright, then don't bring up Jesus to me. As long as we're talking about shelf life here. A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. Do you think, when Jesus comes back, he ever wants to look at a fucking cross? It's kinda like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on. 'Just thinking of John, Jackie. We love him. Trying to keep that memory alive, baby.'

George Bush says 'we are losing the war on drugs.' Well, you know what that implies? There's a war going on…and people on drugs are winning it! Well, what does that tell you about drugs? Some smart, creative motherfuckers on that side. You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years ... rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few songs.

One of my big fears in life is that I'm going to die, and my parents are going to have to clear out my apartment and find the porno wing I've been adding to for years. There'll be two funerals that day.

You know we armed Iraq. I wondered about that too, you know. During the Persian Gulf war, those intelligence reports would come out: 'Iraq: incredible weapons – incredible weapons.' How do you know that? 'Uh, well ... we looked at the receipts.'

They said the Iraqis had the fourth largest army in the world. Well, the Hare Krishnas are the fifth largest, and they've already got our airports.

Gays in the military…here's how I feel about it, alright? Anyone DUMB enough to want to be in the military, should be allowed in. End of fucking story. That should be the only requirement.

I was in Nashville, Tennesee last year. After the show, I went to a Waffle House. I'm not proud of it, I was hungry. And I'm eating, I'm alone and I'm reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: 'Hey, what you readin' for?' Is that like the weirdest fucking question you've ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading ... for. 'Well, God damn it, you stumped me. Why do I read? Hmm ... I guess I read for a lot of reasons, and the main one is ... so I don't end up being a fucking waffle waitress.' But then, this trucker in the next booth gets up, stands over me and goes: 'Well, looks like we got ourselves a reader.' What the fuck's going on here? It's not like I walked into a Klan rally in a Boy George outfit, God damn it. It's a book!

Here is my final point. About drugs, about alcohol, about pornography and smoking and everything else. What business is it of yours what I do, read, buy, see, say, think, who I fuck, what I take into my body – as long as I do not harm another human being on this planet?