Something truly magical happened last Friday on The Late Show with David Letterman. Cher didn’t call Dave an ass. Drew Barrymore didn’t flash her breasts. Madonna didn’t say the F-word 1756 times. Instead, as best he could, Santa Claus came back to life.
On January 30th, 2009, David Letterman invited Mary Hicks onto his show and delivered an extremely genuine and heartfelt apology for something that happened over 15 years ago. On October 1, 1993, Mary’s son Bill Hicks became the first performer to be censored in the Ed Sullivan Theater since Elvis Presley, when the routine Bill had done earlier that night was deemed too controversial for late-night television. Presley had been censored for his swinging hips, Hicks for his ideas. Letterman not only apologized to Hicks’ mother, but after airing the 1993 appearance for the first time anywhere, took full responsibility on himself for the decision to completely excise Hicks from the October 1st show.
“I’ve not seen that videotape or any part of it since that night, and seeing it now, it raises the question – what was the matter with me? What was I thinking? That was just tremendous. If anything … it says a great deal about me, it says more about me than it does about Bill, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that… just perfect … I expected it to be somewhat dated, being this old and it’s not and in fact, I guess this speaks to the suggestion that he was way ahead of his time."
The incident perhaps resolves the darkest spot on David Letterman’s innovative television career. One that grew only darker when it was revealed that Hicks had been secretly dealing with pancreatic cancer and would be dead in less than six months.
Not many people knew it at the time, but Bill Hicks, in his abbreviated tenure on this planet, fulfilled the early promise of Lenny Bruce. He was a fearless, angry, no sell-out social commentator/preacher, whose live performances were as funny as his ideas were brave. He was so ahead of his time that Bill Maher essentially lost his Politically Incorrect show, when he merely paraphrased a joke of Hicks’ in the wake of September 11th, nearly a decade after Bill Hicks had been one of the few entertainers on the planet with the gall to question the “God Bless, America” party atmosphere of Operation Desert Storm. Brutally ignored during his lifetime, time has been good to Bill Hicks. His reputation as a comedian with a mission has reached near Olympian levels since his death, and his acolytes speak of him in almost religious reverence.