Bill Hicks

On this date in 1961, stand-up comedian and social critic William Melvin Hicks was born in Valdosta, Ga., to parents Jim and Mary Hicks (née Reese). Hicks’ family lived in Florida, Alabama and New Jersey before settling in Houston when he was 7. The neighborhood was mostly Southern Baptist. At age 12 he began performing as a comedy duo with his friend Dwight Slade. By 13 he had already begun stand-up gigs, the first of which was at a church camp talent show.

After high school he moved to Los Angeles, playing gigs and making a number of television appearances. In 1982 he founded the Absolute Creative Entertainment Production Company, which later became Sacred Cow. He moved to New York City, performing 300 times a year over the next five years. Hicks inspired a devoted following in the UK and Ireland, winning the Critics’ Award at the Edinburgh Festival. In 1992 he moved back to L.A. and was voted “Hot Stand-up Comic” by Rolling Stone magazine in 1993, though his material was controversial.

His 12th and final appearance with late-night host David Letterman in 1993 was cut from the broadcast due to his jokes about religion and anti-abortionists. Though Hicks grew up Southern Baptist, he was always a freethinker. When his father would say that he believed the bible was the literal word of God, Hicks replied, “You know, some people believe that they’re Napoleon. That’s fine. Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don’t share them like they’re the truth.” (American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story by Cynthia True, 2002.)

He died from pancreatic cancer in February 1994 at age 32 at his parents’ home in Little Rock, Ark. Rolling Stone ranked him No. 13 on its 2017 list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.

Freedom From Religion Foundation