Tonight, a rare thing happened for me… I watched Letterman and was moved to tears. I can always count on David Letterman to laugh before going to bed. Not this time. It seems that back in October 1993, a young comedian, Bill Hicks, was scheduled to appear on the show for his 12th appearance. For whatever reason, Letterman’s reaction to Bill’s bit (a confrontational series of jokes about pro-lifers, among other things) was to cut the entire appearance from the show, and it never made it to air. Bill and his family were pretty upset by this decision, as you might imagine. Still, as Steve Martin would say, professional show biz is not pretty. Bill Hicks might well have had a much bigger future ahead of him but for something not known to more than a few people that night in 1993; he was very sick with pancreatic cancer, and there would not be another shot at Letterman, because four months later, Bill Hicks was dead at 32.
David Letterman tonight showed himself at his most human, something we’ve rarely seen over the years, the notable exception being his return to the air after open-heart surgery a few years ago, where he profusely and gracefully thanked the surgeons who saved his life. Tonight’s show had that edge of humanity, as Dave welcomed to the show Mary Hicks, Bill’s mother. Dave apologized for his 1993 decision, and recognized the impact on Bill’s career and on his family. Mary clearly appreciated this. More importantly, and to my amazement, Dave then showed the entire clip of Bill Hick’s censored act. Some of the references were a little dated (“Marky Mark), but otherwise the material held up beautifully. You saw a man in prime comic form, and you might have felt, perhaps, like you were cheated of a talent you might have become a big fan of. Bill Hicks would be only 49 today, had he survived cancer.
Dave was so real and humble after showing the clip. “This saws everything about me, who I am, and not Bill. That was a beautiful bit, perfect, so funny. What was I thinking [in cutting it]?” The Hicks family goes home with closure, vindication, appreciation, and pride. Dave Letterman
A truly beautifu and touching moment, and a nice one to take to sleep with me.