On Bill Hicks’ Goodbye Letter to Life and Legacy-Building
By Ben Bartee - December 03, 2023

Originally published via Armageddon Prose:

Having taken a renewed interest in Bill Hicks lately — late to the party, I know — I consider him a prophet of sorts.

Hicks was way ahead of the curve, back in the 80s, in his analysis of the corrosive influence of consumerism as a substitute for the transcendent meaning formerly provided by God — a comedic addendum, in a way, to Nietzsche’s proclamation some 200 years ago that “God is dead.”

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Here’s a brilliant bit from ’89 on the “big girl” George Michaels selling Diet Coke — a “Reagan wet dream,” as he put it.

You might be familiar with Hicks’ “it’s just a ride” bit — the first of his I saw which (I believe) appeared in one of the Zeitgeist films. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a worthy introduction to his brand of comedy, which often doubled as profound insight.

I then became curious about his untimely death at the age of 32, succumbing to pancreatic cancer. That absolute son of a bitch Henry Kissinger made it to 100, yet the cosmic powers that be gave Bill Hicks less than a third of that time

In researching, I came across a letter he wrote about two weeks before he died. It goes like this:

“February 7, 1994 –

     I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place.

     All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went – dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies, anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words – Vision.

     On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?”

     Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness.


     I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

I often wonder what my legacy will be, and also, maybe more importantly, if having one matters at all. My ego insists that it does and that I ought to strive to be one of those names that everyone remembers forever — Jesus, Napoleon, Shakespeare, etc.

And then I feel like a pretentious douche for worrying about it at all, and I opine on the parable of Diogenes, “The Dog” of Greek philosophers, who, upon receiving for a social occasion the illustrious Alexander the Great, at whose feet lesser men trembled, requested that he “stand out of my light” as Diogenes sunned himself — the obvious implication being that he wasn’t impressed. Both men, the legend goes, died on the same day.

I sometimes, similarly, while pondering existential stuff, recall the iconic “if you died right now, how would you feel about your life?” Fight Club scene.

I wouldn’t feel not anything good about my life, like the nameless protagonist answers, but I wouldn’t feel like I made the most of it either. I suppose there’s always room for improvement as long as I’m breathing. Anyway, cheers to those who would, and to the legacy of Bill Hicks.

Ben Bartee, author of Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.

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