Billy Ray Hearn, a friend and mentor to me, died yesterday. He was 85 and fully alive until his death. I told him once (as we talked about sex and wine and how much he still loved both at age 80) that I want to be just like him when I grow up. He mentored me in his vast knowledge of wine and I mentored him in social networking. One of my fondest memories was an evening with his then fiancée—and soon to be third wife Nancy—as Billy Ray gave me a hands on Italian cooking lesson he had learned personally from Mario Batali. We then shared the delicious dinner, amazing conversation, and two of the most extraordinary wines (Masseto & Quintarelli) of my life. It was a sacramental time.
Billy Ray also agreed to speak at re:Create a few years ago and regaled us all with fascinating stories of the beginnings of Contemporary Christian Music. You could have heard a pin drop. Another fond memory I will cherish forever. One quote: “I would never sign an artist to a recording deal unless they gave me chills. I figured if they could give me chills—they could give anyone chills.”
He was truly an original. He continually defied stereotypical Christian conventions. I remember a “christian” record executive tell me how embarrassed he was when Billy Ray gave him a tour of his modest but beautifully appointed home—proudly showing him the master bedroom highlighted by an artistic nude painting of his second wife who was then still very much alive (he outlived two wives and loved them sacrificially, one through an extended debilitating illness).
One afternoon after a wonderful lunch at his home he spent forty-five minutes telling me about the albino deer that often graced his back yard. And wouldn’t you know it—it appeared as if by magic. Perhaps Billy Ray—always the consummate showman—somehow had made a deal with Mother Nature to summon the rare deer at his cue for the enjoyment of his guests.
Have fun in the after-earth life, Billy Ray. I know you will. It will be a better place with you in it. The world has lost a man who exemplified the courage to truly be who he is.