Utterly unique singer/songwriter Wesley Willis passed away Aug. 21 at the age of 40 after a long battle with chronic myelogenous leukemia. The Chicago-based artist underwent emergency surgery to suppr
Utterly unique singer/songwriter Wesley Willis passed away Aug. 21 at the age of 40 after a long battle with chronic myelogenous leukemia. The Chicago-based artist underwent emergency surgery to suppress internal bleeding on June 2 and remained in hospice care until his death.
Standing 6'5" tall and weighing more than 300 pounds, Willis was an imposing figure both in person and on the more than 50 albums released during his career. A diagnosed schizophrenic, Willis began writing songs in 1992, primarily about his favorite rock'n'roll artists. He would also be frequently seen riding the Chicago bus lines, selling his accomplished pen drawings of the cityscapes.
In the mid-'90s, Willis released two albums for American Recordings that deviated little, if at all, from formula: three chords, a chorus with the subject's name repeated over and over, and an outtro featuring the slogan, "Rock over London, rock on Chicago."
Willis' "Greatest Hits Vol. 1" was released in 1995 by Alternative Tentacles, the label run by Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra. A second volume followed in 1999 and a third edition will be released on Oct. 7. "Volume III" will feature video footage of Willis as well as downloads and an art and photo gallery.
"Wesley will go down as one of the most unique songwriters and entertainment personalities in history," Biafra said in a statement. "His music, lyrics, drawings, insight and the way he put them together are like no one else. Ever. There will never be another. As I got to know Wes, what really struck me was his sheer will power, his unrelenting drive to succeed and overcome his horrifically poor background, child abuse, racism, chronic schizophrenia and obesity, among other things. He was the most courageous person I have ever known."
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.