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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bill Heywood: Friend, We Did Not See This Coming

My phone rang this morning and a close friend, a long time broadcaster like myself, said, "I have news." She read me the headline that Bill Heywood and his wife Susan had been found dead in a Scottsdale hotel. Scottsdale Police, a department I know and respect through my work as a crime author, say the evidence is clear that it was a double suicide.

I worked with and around Bill over a span of 25 years. What the world needs to know about this legendary Radio and TV personality is that he was a gracious, gracious man. Radio is a wild world of intensely smart, talented, and ambitious people where rage, devious scheming and substance problems are common, a jungle of sudden snakebites and rampaging rhinos.

Bill was never that man.

Bill was courteous to a fault and his hallmark was his smooth sound that perfectly showcased his temperament.

The classic "radio rage" moment, familiar to anyone who has worked in a station, features a "cart" (olden days technology for tape cartridges that contained songs and commercials) being hurled across a studio.

I never saw Bill do that.  No one ever saw Bill do that.

Many of the photos that are on the net today show him in casual wear such as Hawaiian shirts or turtlenecks, but I always think of him in dress shirts with french cuffs and white collars. Bill was elegant and posh, in his dress, in his humor, and in his manners. (I have my own photos of Bill, but they are physical photos, mementoes from days at KOY. It would require more concentration than I can muster today to convert them to digital.)

After we had both left KOY, Bill and I crossed paths as those in the radio industry do. When I became a columnist for the Arizona Republic, I gave him writeups from time to time. He always called or dropped me a note to thank me as if I'd hosted him at my house for a weekend or presented him with a cashmere sweater.  (I happened to post one of those mentions a short time ago. Read the bottom of this column-click here.) 

When Bill and I first met, I was a very young broadcaster and he was a well established star.  I was in news, a very different thing from being a disc jockey, which is what Bill was. I often was part of his morning show, providing an extra voice for a bit he was preparing or doing live drop-ins of some kind--news, traffic, the visit of Pope John Paul II, and so on. I don't remember the context of one particular morning I was in his studio, but I remember he made me roar with sudden laughter when he introduced me as "Camille Kimball, Punky Brewster's test-tube mother."  I don't know if the joke survives in 2012, but at the time it caught me by such surprise and was so relevant to the current zeitgeist as well as being such a bizarre fit for me, that I have never forgotten how loud I laughed and the moment  has often tickled my funny bone privately over these many years.

Bill was tickling on the funny bones of thousands of people for more years than I've been alive. To bring entertainment into the world, a moment's witticism, a well-planned bit, a smooth, calm voice during a harried rush hour, these are golden gifts, a grace to the grinding march of daily life. Bill, you were respected and admired by your colleagues, loved by your audience. I do wish that in your moment of darkness, we could have given some of that luminescence back to you, pulled you back into a hall of mirrors, maybe, where the light you gave us all could be reflected so bright you could not have fallen prey to shadows ever again.

Rest in peace, Bill Heywood.

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  1. Camille, That is such a nice tribute-personal and light--He was lucky to know you and I bet you learned things from him also. Very sad news and I am so sorry for your loss. Take care, Patrice

  2. Lovely words, Camille. A gift to us all was Bill Heywood. Thank you for giving the "other side of the mic" as gracious a telling of Bill as what he was on air.

    Hugs to you, Tama

  3. My husband and I emigrated to the US from Canada and were on a path to citizenship when the unthinkable happened. Tom suffered a massive paralyzing stroke at age 48. We made it through with God's grace and the humility, humanity and humor of Bill Heywood. The mornings he told of the latest trials and tribulations of his daughter's wedding-through my own tears I laughed until my sides hurt. Bill ( Heywood and Austin)- what a pair of gracious gentlemen. We were very privileged to be in their company.

  4. Thank you all for collecting here and joining in the memory of Bill, Sweet William, who touched so many untold numbers of us. I love hearing your thoughts and memories. I feel very melancholy. I know you all do, too.

    Anon of 7:34, thank you for mentioning Bill Austin, too. He has also been much on my mind the last 48 hours. Two men who gave so much and never hurt anyone anywhere. It doesn't come along often in the same career, the same lifetime.

  5. They are both men that gave so much more than they ever realized. It's difficult to understand death of any cause but Bill Austin's death ended his suffering and put him at peace. Bill Heywood's suffering caused his death leaving his loved ones with grief that can never be completely understood. Peace to both of them and to all of their families and friends.

  6. When something like this happens, I often say to people that we don't understand because we aren't in the dark place one must seem to be in order to take their own life. In this instance, perhaps it's different.

    It was always so good to hear and see Bill Heywood, and there had to be a huge part of him that was big fun in order for him to impart all that humor and wit. We Americans don't take resignation well, we don't embrace it. What with "Life to the fullest" and "Make every moment count," how can we understand "I'm ready to call it a life"? Perhaps there are times when a person makes that decision and chooses to resign. Is that a dark place, or is that just a place to which one comes in life once in a while? Knowing how much of a pleasure it was to have Bill in the world (and from what I've read, his wife as well), I truly hope they were occupying the latter spot.

  7. Mike, I keep picturing my past interactions with Bill and a Twilight Zone effect lights up over his head with this tableau--Jan 4, 2012--shimmering there. How could we possibly, in all those smooth, confident, affable moments that made up his life, how could we possibly have divined this ending? We will all be pondering it for a long time, the answer will remain perniciously out of reach forever.