Billy Dee Williams liked my energy and entrepreneurial spirit, and we stayed in touch. On a visit to Los Angeles in 1994 we arranged to meet for lunch. He was gracious enough to pick me up at my hotel with his assistant Patricia. The conversation quickly turned to Billy’s disappointment in not getting the cover of Airbrush Action, which went to famed movie poster illustrator Drew Struzan. He was very diplomatic, but his point was most clear. Uncomfortable. Nonetheless, Williams and Patricia invited me to check out his new home and art studio somewhere in the Hollywood hills. When we stopped at a red light a street person approached Billy’s side (he was driving) for money. “Go get a job!” Billy snapped and raced off. “Man, I can’t believe these people,” he exclaimed. “And he didn’t even know who I was!”
It was a very funny moment, but you probably had to be there. I loved hearing Williams’s stories about celebrities, and this time I asked, “Tell me about Richard Prior.” [Note: at the time Prior had multiple sclerosis, and a history for drug use and spousal abuse]. Pointing to the back seat, he replied, “Why don’t you ask Patricia back there. She used to live with him.” Patricia went on to share her horror stories about a physically abusive Richard Prior.
Fascinating stuff. Williams further shared that he could no longer be friends with such a high-maintenance person, and that he believed Prior’s illness might be AIDS, not MS! Again, fascinating stuff. Williams home, a contemporary on the edge of a cliff, was beautiful and his studio, a “dreamy” space, would be the envy of most artists. His landlord stopped by with his early-teen, if that, son, and in no time the inappropriateness started to fly as Billy talked about one of his favorite subjects: women and his herculean conquests.
This was a tense, awkward, and extremely hillarious moment, especially in the stiffened company of a mortified father and his young child. Also, again, Billy Dee did not disappoint in the colorful company department. As a favor, later that year, Williams made a guest appearance, gratis, at an early Coast Airbrush/Airbrush Action Party in Anaheim, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. We fell out of touch until I ran into him at a convention in Burbank about three or four years ago. I thought I’d be long forgotten, but he gave me a big bear hug, suggested we meet for dinner before I departed for Jersey, and offered his latest telephone number. I try calling from time to time with no luck. I’m proud of the extraordinary memories I clutch of the time spent with a Hollywood legend and airbrush artist.