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Bill Hicks, 32; Popular Comic in U.S., England

TIMES STAFF WRITER

William M. (Bill) Hicks, the dark and biting stand-up comedian whose material was excised in October from “The Late Show With David Letterman” because it purportedly touched “too many hot spots,” has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 32.

Hicks, the subject of two HBO specials and a New Yorker magazine profile who performed regularly in Los Angeles and Orange counties, died Saturday at the home of his parents in Little Rock, Ark., his co-manager, Colleen McGarr, announced Sunday. Before Hicks’ illness, he had lived on the Westside.

Last year Hicks released the comedy album “Arizona Bay,” and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as the year’s “hot stand-up.” He was recently nominated for his third American Comedy Award.

Hicks had appeared 11 times on Letterman’s former show, NBC’s “Late Night.” But when he recorded six minutes of material for Letterman’s CBS version last fall, the executive producer called him to say that CBS representatives had ordered the segment axed.

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“The show went great,” Hicks told The Times then. “Dave even gave me a Havana cigar during the break.”

Stunned by the censorship, Hicks said: “I perform this stuff for my mom on her porch in Little Rock, Arkansas. I even wore a delightful new outfit, with fall colors. I didn’t wear black.”

Hicks customarily wore black in his club dates here, across the United States and in England, where he became a cult favorite. The costume emphasized his dark, satirical humor that caused some fans and critics to label him the “prince of darkness.”

His routines customarily examined a host of controversial subjects--homosexuality, religion, gun-control laws, smoking, politics, pornography and drugs.

On religion, he typically commented in his act: “Why do Christians wear crucifixes around their neck? Do you think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see another (expletive) cross?”

On drugs, Hicks would say: “You never see positive drug stories on the news, do you? Isn’t that weird, since most of the experiences I’ve had on drugs were real (expletive) positive.”

Hicks started sneaking out of the house at age 13 to perform at open mike nights at Houston’s Comedy Workshop.

In 1991, his hourlong performance at the Just for Laughs Montreal International Comedy Festival gave him international status and made him particularly popular in England.

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Noting that he found less censorship in Britain than in the United States, he said last year before the Letterman incident: “It’s kind of funny to see a guy who talks about free speech (being) edited. That’s America. God bless it.”

Hicks had recently created a series for British television, called “Counts of the Netherworld,” involving two Victorian-era counts who sit around philosophizing.

Hicks’ stand-up style involved talking his way through a subject to reveal its inherent absurdities rather than telling jokes. Called everything from “a foul-mouthed moralist” to “a satirical comedic poet,” Hicks refused to describe himself.

“Lenny Bruce (said): ‘I’m not a comic, I’m Lenny Bruce,’ ” Hicks mused last year. “I think he was trying to say, ‘Don’t label me.’ I think I’ll go the same route.”

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Hicks is survived by his parents, James and Mary, of Little Rock; a sister, Lynn, of Fort Worth, Tex., and a brother, Steve, of Austin, Tex.

A memorial service is scheduled Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Griffin Leggett Funeral Home in Little Rock, with graveside services at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Leakesville, Miss.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to Hospice Home Care Inc. in Little Rock.


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