The Sad Story of Billy Preston

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The Sad Story of Billy Preston

Billy Preston whose birth name was William Everett Preston was born on the 2nd of September 1946 in Houston. Billy was an American musician who did several genres such as soul, gospel, funk, R & B, and rock. He led quite an interesting life before his demise which will be talked about in this article.

Billy’s early life

 Billy’s parents got divorced when he was one and he relocated with his mother to Los Angeles where she started working as a secretary at a funeral home. His mother played the organ at the church they went to and the young boy by the age of three had started playing the family piano while on his mother’s lap. He was a sharp and fast learner and never got lessons from anyone. By the time he was 11, he made an appearance on the tv show Nat King Cole’s on NBC for an episode and he sang ‘Blueberry Hill’ along with Cole. Billy met the Beatles in 1962 while he was an organist in Little Richard’s band. Up until 1967, he had released two albums, ”16-year-old soul” and “The most exciting organ ever”. 

Billy as the fifth Beatle

 Billy finally hooked up with the Beatles in 1969 when they were almost breaking up. He played electric piano as well as the organ for the Beatles for quite a number of their Get Back sessions. A large number of the sessions appeared in Let it be, the album as well as the companion album. For the band’s last appearance in public, Preston accompanies them. Preston even got credit for the band’s single, “Get back” that he was mentioned in the single title. This was one of the major reasons he was referred to as the fifth Beatle. He also made an appearance in a film by Robert Stigwood that was based on the album that has the same name by the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  In 1969, his album, “That’s the way God planned it” got released by the Beatles Apple label.

Billy’s Solo Career

Billy continued doing collaborations even after the Beatles’ breakup. One of the albums that he co-produced with Harrison was ‘Encouraging words’ and had the single “My Sweet Lord” that became a hit. Between 1970 and 1977, he remained the keyboardist of the Rolling Stones. He contributed to some of the band’s singles such as ‘Sticky fingers’ and ‘Exile on the main street’. He released several albums that were a success especially for his singles such as ‘Outer space’ and ‘Will it go round in circles’.

In November 2002, Preston performed in London at the concert for celebrating George Harrison’s life who had died of throat cancer. He then toured Europe in 2004 together with the funk brothers. He appeared on the fourth season finale of American Idol in 2005 playing the piano. Later that year, in Los Angeles, he had his last public performance. 

Preston’s sexuality and trauma

It was only after his death that the details of his sexuality and also the extent of his trauma were ever known. Preston struggled his entire life to come to terms with the fact that he was gay. Although those close to him such as Keith Richard were aware of his sexual orientation, it was right up to when he was just about to die that he came out to the public. This was directly related to the fact that being gay was conflicting with the religious beliefs he had grown up with.

In 2010, Joyce Moore, Preston’s manager revealed more about his trauma. Billy had been open with her about all the trauma he had from his childhood. After they had moved to Los Angeles and he was around nine years, he got abused repeatedly by the pianist that worked in the touring production company that his mum and he performed at. He brought the issue up to his mum but she did not believe him nor protect him and for that reason, he continued getting sexually assaulted for the rest of that summer. In addition to that sad event, he also got sexually assaulted by his local pastor.

Later in his life in the 1970s, Preston encountered yet another traumatic experience. He was engaged to Kathy Silvia who was a model and actress. He was also very close friends with Sly Stone and had even made several contributions to his recordings. One day, he came home and found Sly in bed with Stone (the two later got married). This was devastating for Preston as anyone would expect. Moore disclosed that the situation prompted Billy to completely stop having romantic relations with women and even start cocaine abuse as well as sleeping with men. Moore felt as though his drug use was his way of managing his internal conflicts concerning his sexual desires.

Billy’s drug addiction, legal issues, and ultimate death

Preston was checked into rehab in 1991 to treat his raging addiction. Later that year while he was on probation due to driving under the influence of alcohol, he got arrested under the charges of sexually assaulting a Mexican boy who was 16 years old after he picked him up where the day laborers gathered. The boy disclosed that Billy had taken him to his house, where he smoked cocaine and then showed him pornographic material and went ahead to try to assault him but he managed to escape. Preston also faced charges of owning a deadly weapon. 

Billy’s drug tests came back positive and he was charged for drug use as well as sexual assault. He got sentenced to three months under house arrest as well as nine months in a drug rehabilitation center. In 1992 however, he got a sentence of 30 days in jail as he had violated his probation by driving while drunk. In 1997, Billy got sentenced yet again to three prison years for the possession of cocaine which was a violation in regards to his probation. While still in prison, Preston was involved in an insurance fraud where his house was intentionally set on fire. He agreed to be guilty and testified against the others who were in on the deal. For that he got a year in jail as well as restitution amounting to $60,000. 

Preston had hypertension that led to kidney disease. Although he had entered rehabilitation voluntarily in Malibu, he got a respiratory failure that left him in a coma from the 21st of November 2005. He then died on the 6th of June 2006 in Arizona. His funeral was held on the 21st of June 2006 and he was finally laid to rest in the park cemetery of Inglewood in California.

Billy Preston lived a successful life until he began his drug abuse that he was willing to get better for but he ran out of time. 


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