I’ve met the most fascinating humans through my chosen profession. But none of them more so than Billy O’Riordan who passed away this week.
Any newspaper articles about Billy, including now his death notice, will undoubtedly feature ‘aka Joylene Thornbird Hairmouth’. Billy was a notorious member of the cabaret/punk band Jimmy and the Boys, fronted by bad boy Ignatius Jones in the 70’s-80’s.
It wasn’t until the 90’s, though, that I met Billy, when he climbed the wide wooden stairs of my school, Sydney Yoga Centre, and joined our yoga classes. At this time of his life, he was attempting to stay sober and make healthy living choices.
Billy was a born performer and his favoured expression that of drag queen. I’d heard about his amazing dress and makeup presentation and finally got to see him in full regalia at my 50th birthday party. My invitation suggested a dress code where anyone might cross-dress if they liked.
He stole the show. Dressed in his mother Gwen’s slim-lined, red, very sequined frock and mile-high hair, Billy arrived at the party ready to boogie. When Daniel and I cleaned up the morning after, we found red sequins that had popped off Gwen’s dress under and over and all around the place.
Billy was generous and spent time on piano rehearsing with Daniel and me the Stephen Sondheim song ‘The Little Things You Do Together’ which we then sang, and he played, at Collyn and Maarit’s wedding.
Someone described Billy’s intelligence as a diamond wit. True. He just loved words and learned the Sanskrit names to yoga poses just for fun.
I hadn’t been in touch with Billy for a long time so I didn’t know he was approaching end of life. When I phoned and reached him directly at his hospice bed, I was glad I could say some of the happy memories I had of him. He cried. He was tired and this life was hard. I think he knew, too, that he wasn’t going to go home.
A giant and audacious talent has been extinguished, and Bill will be sorely missed. Likely we won’t be dwelling on his death but on the fact that he lived and gave us memories too vivid to forget.