Bill Hicks: 25 years on from the cult comedian's big break

Inspirational comic visionary, revered in Britain yet ignored at home

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Letterman let down

As a rock fan and one-time musician, Hicks had also managed to record some purely musical albums by now, albeit of a somewhat hit and miss nature, and there was talk of his own Channel 4 series, as well as various one-offs. The world seemed at his feet when he was hit by a double blow.

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On 16 June 1993 he finally discovered that the serious pain that had dogged him for many months was actually pancreatic cancer – a condition that then had only a one per cent survival rate. Determined to gig to the last, Hicks took just enough time off, and just enough medication, to help him keep performing.

However, the last big breakthrough in his native land was to be denied him. In October that same year, he recorded an entire routine for the Letterman show – then bigger than ever in critical terms. And for the first and last time on Letterman an entire six minute comic routine was cut in its entirety, for being too outspokenly offensive.

The decision was taken by the show’s producer and by Letterman himself, who did make a belated apology, some fifteen years too late.

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There was a brief flurry of censorship stories in the newspapers and magazines, and much talk of giving Hicks slots on other TV and radio shows. But it was all too late for that, for the man himself was ailing fast and was soon unable, or unwilling, to even take short phone calls from his closest friends. He died on 26 February 1994 at his parents’ home in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was just 32 years old.

For many people his comedy went too far, too fast – and too often – but Bill Hicks undoubtedly kicked up a lot of dust ... and most of it still sparkles. With his cult following continuing to grow and with talk of a Russell Crowe biopic still doing the rounds, it seems that in death Hicks, the scathing yet caring comic, is starting to attain the sort of legendary status that only the likes of Lenny Bruce has ever achieved before.

And on the subject of Hicks’ life – and death – there is no better way to end all this than by giving him the very last, and very appropriate, word. ®

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