William Melvin Hicks, better known as Bill Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994), was a controversial American stand-up comedian, satirist, and social critic.
Comedian Richard Pryor figured largely as an inspiration and stand-up idol for Hicks, as did Woody Allen who also served strongly as a very early influence for a pre-teen Hicks. Hicks characterized his own performances as "Chomsky with dick jokes".
Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Bill was the son of Jim and Mary (Reese) Hicks, and had two elder siblings, Steve and Lynn. The family lived in Florida, Alabama, and New Jersey before settling in Houston, Texas when Bill was seven. Hicks has two school-age stories on the Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 album. He said he was raised in the Southern Baptist faith. He was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen, and writing routines with his friend Dwight Slade. Worried about Bill's behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17, but the psychoanalyst could find little wrong with him. The therapist apparently joked that Bill's parents would probably benefit more from a few sessions than Bill himself.
In 1978, the Comedy Workshop opened in Houston, and friends Hicks, Slade, John S. and Kevin Booth started performing there. At first, Hicks was unable to drive to venues independently and was so young that he needed a special work permit to perform. He worked his way up to performing once every Tuesday night in the autumn of 1978, while still in high school. He was well received and started developing his improvisational skills, although his act at the time was limited. Bill Hicks, Kevin Booth, and Jay Leno reminisce about the Comedy Workshop years in the It's Just A Ride documentary.
In his senior year of high school, the Hicks family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, but after his graduation, in the spring of 1980, Bill moved to Los Angeles, California, and started performing at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, where Andrew Dice Clay, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Garry Shandling were also performing at the time. He briefly attended Los Angeles Community College, mentioning the unhappy experience on Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1. He appeared in a pilot for the sitcom, Bulba, before moving back to Houston in 1982. There, he formed the ACE Production Company (Absolute Creative Entertainment), which would later become Sacred Cow Productions, with David Johndrow and Kevin Booth, and worked at local Houston comedy clubs like The Comedy Workshop (as did Brett Butler). Hicks also attended the University of Houston for a short time.
In 1983, Hicks began drinking heavily while using a massive regimen of illicit substances, including LSD, psilocybin, cocaine, MDMA, poppy tea, Valium, Quaaludes, and methamphetamine, which may have influenced his increasingly disjointed and angry, at times even misanthropic ranting style on stage. He continued attacking the American dream, hypocritical beliefs, and traditional attitudes. During his first experience with alcohol, Hicks viciously attacked the audience in a drunken rage, after which, two Vietnam veterans took exception to his statements and sought him out after the show, breaking one of his legs and cracking one of his ribs.
Hicks's success steadily increased (along with his drug use), and in 1984 he got an appearance on the talkshow Late Night with David Letterman, which was engineered by his friend Jay Leno. He made an impression on David Letterman and ended up doing eleven more appearances, presenting bowdlerized versions of his stage shows.
In 1986, Hicks found himself broke after spending all his money on various drugs, but his career got another upturn as he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedians Special in 1987. The same year, he moved to New York City, and for the next five years he did about 300 performances a year. His reputation suffered from his drug use, however, and in 1988, he claimed to have quit everything — including alcohol. Hicks recounts his quitting of alcohol in the One Night Stand special and on Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1. On the album Relentless, he jokes that he quit using drugs because "once you've been taken aboard a UFO, it's kind of hard to top that," although in his performances, he continued to extol the virtues of LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms. He fell back to cigarette smoking, a theme that would figure heavily in his performances from then on.
An infamous gig in Chicago during 1989, later released as the bootleg I'm Sorry, Folks, resulted in Hicks screaming possibly his most infamous quote, "Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever" to a heckler shouting "Free Bird" over and over. Hicks followed this remark with a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide against the whole of humanity, suggesting that it was not an anti-Semitic comment but rather an expression of his disgust with humanity in general. Hicks often veered between hope and love for the human race and utter hopelessness. In the same gig, he yelled at a female heckler, calling her a "drunk cunt" and demanding that she be removed: "Take her out! Take her fucking out! Take her to somewhere that's GOOD! Go see fucking Madonna, you fucking idiot piece of shit!"
In 1989 he released his first video, Sane Man. The same performance was re-issued seventeen years later in 2006.
In 1990, he released his first album, Dangerous, did an HBO special, One Night Stand, and performed at Montreal's Just for Laughs festival. He was also part of a group of American stand-up comedians performing in London's West End in November. He was a huge hit in the UK and Ireland and continued touring there in 1991. That year, he also returned to the Just for Laughs festival and recorded his second album, Relentless.
Hicks made a brief detour into musical recording with the Marblehead Johnson album in 1992, the same year he met Colleen McGarr, who was to become his girlfriend and fiancee. In November of that year, he toured the UK. On that tour, he recorded the Revelations video for Channel 4 in England and the standup performance that would become Live at Oxford Playhouse and Salvation. He was voted "Hot Standup Comic" by Rolling Stone Magazine, and moved to Los Angeles again in early 1993.
The progressive rock band Tool invited Hicks to open a number of concerts for them on their 1993 Lollapalooza appearances, where Hicks once famously asked the audience to look for a contact lens he'd lost. Thousands of people complied. Tool singer Maynard James Keenan so enjoyed this joke that he repeated it on a number of occasions. In 1996, Tool released their album Ænima which contains mentions of Hicks in the liner notes and on record. The track "Ænema" references Hicks's Arizona Bay philosophy and the closing track "Third Eye" contains samples from Hicks's Relentless CD.
In April 1993, while touring in Australia, he started complaining of pains in his side, and in the middle of June of that year, he learned he had pancreatic cancer. He started receiving weekly chemotherapy, while still touring and also recording his album, Arizona Bay, with Kevin Booth. He was also working with comedian Fallon Woodland on a pilot episode of a new talk show, titled Counts of the Netherworld for Channel 4 at the time of his death. The budget and concept had been approved, and a pilot was filmed. The Counts of the Netherworld pilot was shown at the various Tenth Anniversary Tribute Night events around the world on February 26, 2004.
On October 1, 1993, Hicks was scheduled to appear on the David Letterman show for the twelfth time, but his entire performance was cut and prevented from broadcast. Both the show's producers and CBS denied responsibility. Hicks expressed his feelings of betrayal in a hand-written, 32-page letter to the show, demanding to know why his pre-approved set had been cut. And although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, he never appeared on the show again.
He played the final show of his career at Caroline's in New York on January 6, 1994. Bill 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 died at 11:20 p.m. on February 26, 1994 of pancreatic cancer. Bill was buried on the family plot in Leakesville, Mississippi.
The Arizona Bay album, as well as, Rant in E-Minor, were released posthumously in 1997 by Kevin Booth.
“ 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. ”
—Opening voice-over to Hicks's Revelations special from 1993, also quoted in the final issue of Preacher
* "See, I think that drugs have done some good things for us, I really do. If you don't think drugs have done good things for us, then do me a favor, when you go home tonight, take all your albums, all your CDs, all your tapes and burn them. Because you know what? All the bands that made all that great music that has enhanced your lives over the years? Real fuckin' high on drugs. The Beatles were so high they even let Ringo sing a few songs."
* "Boy, I tell you, politics does make for strange bedfellows. Saddam Hussein says in this quote, 'We have nothing against America. We just want to see George Bush beheaded and his head kicked down the street like a soccer ball.' And I was thinking, that's so weird, 'cos... that's what I wanted to see. Wow, me and Hussein, we're like this. Who woulda thunk it?"
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, fellow comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks amongst the top 20 "Greatest Comedy Acts Ever" at number thirteen. Likewise, in "Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time" (2004), Hicks was ranked at number nineteen.
Devotees of Hicks have incorporated his words, image and attitude into their own creations. Thanks to the technologies which enable audio sampling, fragments of Bill Hicks rants, diatribes, social criticisms and philosophies have found their way into many musical works. His influence on Tool is well documented, and the British band Radiohead's seminal 1995 album The Bends was dedicated to his memory (and to "Indigo").
The movie Human Traffic referred to him as the "late, great Bill Hicks," and showed that the main character, Jip, liked to watch a bit of Hicks's stand-up before going out for a night to "remind me not to take life too seriously". Hicks even appears in the comic book Preacher, in which he is an important influence on the protagonist, Rev. Jesse Custer. His opening voice-over to the 1991 Revelations live show is also quoted in Preacher's last issue.
In 2000, Brooklyn 'Punk-Folk' artist Ed Hamell 'Hamell on Trial' released two songs dedicated to Bill Hicks ("Bill Hicks (ascension)" and "Bill Hicks') on the album "Choochtown".
On February 25, 2004, British MP Stephen Pound tabled an early day motion titled "Anniversary of the Death of Bill Hicks" (EDM 678 of the 2003-04 session), the text of which was as follows:
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.
In August 2004, a play called Bill Hicks: Slight Return premiered at the Pleasance Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. Written by Chas Early and Richard Hurst, the play features Bill Hicks (Chas Early) who returns from the dead to play one more show. The play has since been performed in Geel, Belgium and at the Leicester Comedy Festival. , as well as touring the UK.
In 2006, a last hour-long TV-Interview from late 1993, shot approximately three months before his death, was released by the producers on Google Video. It shows a notably thinning Hicks, explaining his ban on the Letterman Show, his perspective on the Waco massacre and various other topics to a live calling audience.
* The Beginning (1973) (Hicks at 12 years old. The other voice is Dwight Slade, his childhood comedic partner)
* Chicago, USA (1989)
* Chicago, USA (1990)
* Chicago, USA (1991)
* Chicago Funny Farm
* Dark Poet
* Filling Up The Hump
* I'm Sorry Folks - Part 1
* I'm Sorry Folks - Part 2
* Queens Theatre Early Show
* Queens Theatre Late Show
* Relentless In Montreal
* Brighton, England (1992)
* Toronto, Canada (1992)
* Egham, England (1992)
* London, England - Early Show (1992)
* London, England - Late Show (1992)
* The Lost Hour - October 5, 1993 
* Bill Hicks' Last Show - Jan 5th, 1994
* Bill Hicks - Chicago 1989 (the infamous 'Bill loses it' show - later released as I'm Sorry, Folks)
* Bill Hicks' Last Show - Jan 5th, 1994
* Comedy Hour (1988)
* Comedy Hour (1990)
* College Radio (1990)
* Comedy Hour (1992)
* Comedy Hour (1992)
* Comedy Hour (1993)
* Howard Stern Show (1993)
* CapZeyeZ Public Viewing (1993)