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“The Black Cat Man is still hanging in there.”
That’s what William “Willy” Turner told me yesterday afternoon when I visited him at the Deanwood Rehabilitation and Wellness Center on Nannie Hellen Burroughs Avenue NE, and it was a nice thing to hear several days after a handful of local blogs declared him dead.
For more than a decade, the man known to locals as Black Cat Bill greeted showgoers lining up outside the Black Cat with the call “Black Cat, Black Cat! A little change for the homeless?” Regulars knew him. The club sometimes helped him out with food. He was a neighborhood fixture who helped keep trouble away from the 14th Street NW venue. “It’s a match made in hell with Dante,” he told Washington City Paper in 1997, referring to both the Italian poet and club owner Dante Ferrando.
These days, Turner isn’t in great health, he’s lost a fair amount of weight, and he no longer makes it out to the club. He’s been living at the Deanwood residence for about two years, and before that was in and out of shelters. He told me he enjoys visits from his daughter and granddaughter, and he regularly watches old movies on the small television set by his bed.
The rumor of his passing began with a tweet from a former Black Cat employee, and quickly spread around social media and sites like DCist and We Love D.C. The false reports filled Facebook feeds; some folks even asked me if my band wanted to perform at a benefit concert in Turner’s honor. According to Black Cat’s talent buyer, Vicki Savoula, “Rumors like this start up every six months or so.”
Still, Turner said he appreciated the outpouring of support. He said that if anyone wants to catch up with him, they’re welcome to stop by during visiting hours, and that he would appreciate the company. He added that he’d love to listen to music in his room, so if anyone has a spare boombox and some James Brown cassettes, he’d be happy to give them a new home.
LISTEN: Black Cat Bill – “Black Cat, Black Cat”[audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2011/11/blackcat-mp3.mp3]