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A statement from one of his biggest fans, Jello Biafra:

We lost Wesley Willis some time before 9PM Chicago time August 21, 2003. Word is he died peacefully. The likely cause may be heart failure. Wesley had been battling leukemia for close to a year. There will probably be a memorial concert, or at least a gathering in his honor in Chicago in the near future.

Wesley will go down as one of the most unique songwriters and entertainment personalities in history. 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 Wesley, what really struck me was his sheer will power, his unrelenting drive to succeed and over come a horrifically poor background, child abuse, racism, chronic schizophrenia and obesity among other things. He was the most courageous person I have ever known. Yet through it all he had such a deep, all-encompassing love of life. Little things, big things. He loved bus rides. He loved watching trains. He loved writing songs about how much he loved his friends. He loved travelling to new towns so he could headbutt new friends. Is there any band he saw that escaped being in their own song about how much he loved their show? He was so warm, so sweet, so giving. He could be a handful when he came to visit; but as soon as he left, we'd miss him immediately.

As his long time friend Dennis Cooper said, "No More Demons." The voices in Wesley's head can't yell at him and put him down any more. Wes was deeply religious. He was afraid that if he died he would no longer get to go see bands play. If there is a hereafter I hope he's right up front as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, his beloved Otis Redding and his dear friend Bradley from Sublime "storm the stage" as the crowd "roars like a sea monster." All opening for Wesley, of course.

It will be hard now that he's gone, but I'm not going to let myself stop enjoying the funny stuff, or the look on people's faces when they first hear "Rock n Roll McDonald's," or the memories of the good times and Wesley's big adventures. He wouldn't want it any other way. There are many down times when all I have to do is think of one of his songs, something he said or simply marvel at his Wesley-isms, and the clouds part and a smile comes to my face. I think he does that for a lot of people. He always will.

Rock over London Rock on Chicago Sail on, Wes. I love you.
Jello Biafra 8-22-03


Wesley was my brother, and i never new the bounds of his music. We were all in foster homes as children and until i was 17 had never spent much time with him..sure we had visits but they were all supervised so we never got to play and frolic like children did. People take things for granted like having a mom and dad a feeling of security that all children should feel, we didn't have that, but thru all the adversity we rise.

Wesley was 20 when he got his first keyboard it was a casio . It was so small in his hands he could barely hit the keys , so when he sold another drawing he would get another one bigger than the last ! Wesley also loved listening to rock bands like The scorpions,BonJovi,Pink floyd,the cure, many others.He would ask our brothers Steven and Walter to play songs for him to dance to,and they would play them all night they had record collections that would rival Dr.Wax!! He would hold his arms out to his sides like he was flying and bounce around like he was on fireand would sing so loud !!

He also had a love for clocks as well. One day he came home with a school clock ,so i asked him why don't you get a wristwatch not realizing his wrists are large he said "cause i like it " so that was that:)

Our mother was very abusive and an alchoholic. she would take his money and drink herself to sleep for what reason i never knew. Roger Lee was her recent boyfriend at the time . he was far from being a model citizen, he would have my older brothers running back and fourth to the liquor store all night long !! He was the straw that broke up our already fractured home ..

But Wesley, Walter, Steven, Richard were the backbone of my teen years they tought me to appreciate life no matter how hard it was living in the projects. We were always under ridicule by the people there, getting robbed life was very hard, but thru it all wesley reached for his brass ring and headbutted it! PROVING WHERE THERE'S A WILLIS THERE'S A WAY!!!to all of his fans/friend god bless you for the kind words you have for my brother >ROCK ON CHICAGO ROCK OVER LONDON!!!you gave music and memories never to be forgotten! i'll see you soon so save me a seat !!

Michael Willis


"where there's a willis, there's a way"

rock on.

Wesley & Friends ~ 1996



Rock singer-songwriter, painter

By Gayle Worland
Tribune staff reporter
August 23, 2003

Standing 6-feet-5 and weighing more than 300 pounds, Wesley Willis cut an imposing figure as he would lumber up to a stranger on the street with some 200 self-produced compact discs stuffed into cases under his arms.

"Hi, I'm Wesley Willis," he would address them with his trademark charm. "I'm a rock star! I'm glad to meet you!"

Mr. Willis--a painter, performer, songwriter, entrepreneur and, yes, among fans of his sometimes raunchy, sometimes tender underground music, a true rock star--died Thursday, Aug. 21, in the Palliative CareCenter & Hospice of the North Shore, of complications from chronic myelogenous leukemia.

One of the most colorful characters on the Chicago club circuit, Mr. Willis, 40, began his musical career with guitarist Dale Meiners in the early 1990s. Soon their band, Wesley Willis Fiasco, was opening for punk/ska headliners Sublime in shows across the U.S.

Mr. Willis' music was repetitive, direct and relentlessly unpretentious. For some, said Tamara Smith, a close friend for 12 years, "it's an acquired taste."

His lyrics, like his stage shows, were pithy, off the cuff and often hilarious. Mr. Willis toured tirelessly, and his three-chord rants drew fans ranging from frat-house partyers to internationally known post-punk stars.

At least four film documentaries have been made about his life, career and the "demon" voices that schizophrenia had planted in his head.

"He was the most courageous person I have ever known," wrote free-speech icon Jello Biafra, founder of the Dead Kennedys, on the Web site for the Alternative Tentacles label that released two of Mr. Willis' latest albums. "As I got to know Wes, what really struck me was his sheer will power, his unrelenting drive to succeed. ... Yet through it all, he had such a deep, all-encompassing love of life."

Mr. Willis greeted every acquaintance with a "Rrrrah!" followed by a "gentle, look-me-in-the-eye sort of head butt," said Carla Winterbottom, a close friend and former roommate. Though some critics feared Mr. Willis' innocent ways could lead to exploitation, friends tried to look out for him and respected his joy onstage.

"Wes really, really loved being a rock artist," said Smith.

"He had a way to get into the goodness of people and win them over," said his brother Jerry, a freelance deejay. "Even with the culture of music now, where this person sounds just like that person, I don't think there's anyone else whose music you can compare with Wesley's."

Mr. Willis is also survived by his parents, Walter and Annie Ellington Willis; two sisters, Tyrieda and Marcella; and five other brothers, Walter Jr., Ricky, Michael, James and Steve.

Friends will gather from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive & Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, where some of Mr. Willis' pen-and-marker cityscapes are on display. Visitation will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at John Rago Sons Funeral Home, 721 N. Western Ave., Chicago, followed by a memorial service at a date to be determined.
Copyright (c) 2003, Chicago Tribune



All of our Friends,
It's a sad day and a sad email, because last night we lost the big man. I saw him a month ago, and although his health was poor, he was as funny as ever. Seeing him helped me prepare for this, but the more I think about all the fun we had, the more it sinks in. I'm really going to miss him. Considering his beginings in housing projects, to releasing 50 CD's, countless paintings, and touring the world, he's the one in a million that made it. I wonder how many people he made happy, laugh, and changed their lives. Hopefully he's in heaven with Pat (Fiasco Guitarist) having a blast.
Dale Meiners


I was really sorry to hear the news about Wesley. He deserved many more years of life and making music. I never got to meet him, but he certainly seems to have made one hell of an impression on everyone who did.
Max Decharne - Flaming Stars


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