September 15 / 1980
New York City
Bill has been lying low (understatement) for most of the past two weeks ~ keeping quiet in his green on green on green room, on top of the pale green brocade king-sized bed, spread out on top of the galaxy of cigarette burns from his two-year stint in this his bedroom on the 9th floor of the Whiteman House on Center Avenue in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
This is Bill’s room. I share the king. He is on my left; I am on his right. He is nodding, not sleeping. I haven’t seen him sleep yet. I’ve been here almost six months, keeping a close eye on things.
Just being here.
I am conscious of death at all moments. Death is in the room like a shadow waiting for the light to come on, to intensify with the contrast. I have prepared grapefruit, Bill’s favorite, to cheer him up. I am so far out on a limb here. I try putting on music, one of Bill’s albums with Jim Hall. Bill has decided to get out of bed so he can make an appointment in midtown to get set up at a new methadone clinic. He is gravely concerned about the fact that Dr. Nyswander is cutting back his methadone dosage without his permission.
I am relying on Joe La Barbera, Bill’s drummer, who has been staying with us this past week while Bill sat out on his gig at Fat Tuesday’s. Another piano player took over the week because Bill came so close to a crash on the East-side Highway with me in the passenger side as it swooped inches away from the side of the underpass. I think someone drove us home. Maybe it was Joe. It was great to have Joe around that week because, as I said, I was really out on a limb with this one.
We support Bill through the lobby, into Bill’s maroon Monte Carlo. Bill leans into the back seat, Joe and I are in the front. Joe drives us into midtown, Bill directing us to the address.
While we are sitting in traffic, Bill notices a beautiful woman and makes the comment, “This really must be the end, because I don’t feel a thing for that woman.”
We laugh ~ the rope trick once again. I am always amazed at how far out he can go (literally leaving his body) and still snap back at just the right moment. Boom.
I took this moment to offer an inspiration I had about Bill’s financial woes. I said,
“Hey Bill, what do you think about having a memorial concert to raise money for you?”
He said, “You mean a tribute, my dear, as I am still alive.”
Well, Joe and Bill and I laughed a little harder about that one, and then Bill started to cough up blood and soon there was a steady stream of blood coming from his mouth as he directed us to the Mount Sinai Hospital.
“Lay on the horn, Joe. Tell them it’s an emergency,” he instructed.
I felt compelled to keep watch over him as he directed Joe. He gave me the fear in his eyes. I wanted to tell him I needed more, that we weren’t done yet. He told me,
“I think I’m going to drown.”
I wasn’t sure a person could lose that much blood.
We pulled into the emergency driveway moments later. Joe and I lifted Bill from the car and walked him into the hospital. His blood was everywhere, leaving a trail through the waiting room. We laid him on a bed in the emergency room and a flurry of doctors and nurses took over.
I was shuffled out into the waiting room, where I sat and watched with great alarm as the janitor came along and mopped up Bill’s life force. A nurse appeared and in a soothing voice described Bill’s condition as something similar to a nose bleed that just needed cauterizing.
The woman sitting next to me added that her husband had a very similar experience and went on to describe it in great detail. But I couldn’t take in what they were saying. I was thinking about the blood and Bill’s jacket, which was sitting in my lap.
Joe returned and a moment later a young male doctor came out and escorted us into a small office.
He said, “We couldn’t save him.”
I looked at Joe and said,
“Man, this is déjà vu. I’ve been here before.”
From this point on, I am in a heightened state of adrenaline shock. Joe starts making calls. He calls Helen Keane, Bill’s agent. He calls Marc Johnson, Bill’s bass player.
Nobody showed me the body. For years afterward, I would dream that Bill wasn’t actually dead, but had planned some kind of escape. That’s why it’s so easy for us to continue our relationship because he isn’t really dead to me.
Not at all.
I never left and he is eternal
excerpt from “The Big Love: Life and Death with Bill Evans”
by Laurie Verchomin