As a boy, my favorite aunt was named Amelia. I didn’t have grandparents and Amelia didn’t have kids. Consequently, she was always my biggest fan.
Amelia loved gambling (and men) so we’d go to Las Vegas on the train. Often she’d point out a military officer and suggest that I ask him to play cards. Minutes later, Amelia would sashay over flirtatiously, “Is my nephew bothering you?” I’d end up with $5 for a turkey sandwich in the dining car. We were some team.
For my 12th birthday Amelia bought season tickets to the L.A. Rams. Our seats were in front of customers from the “Ace in the Hole Bar” and whenever there was a touchdown, I got drenched with Jack Daniels. Amelia always gave them a tongue-lashing but, for me, the embarrassment from the arguing was as bad as the booze.
Secretly, I wrote a letter to the president of the Rams. Two weeks later, suddenly our seats were upgraded at no charge. (My first lesson in the power of the pen, although I wrote it on a typewriter.)
A few weeks ago I ran into an artist by the beach who made me think about Amelia. He was painting an incredible, life-size likeness of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shooting a skyhook. He introduced himself as Drew Hill. I asked if he was the former football player. He smiled, “That was me then, this is me now.” (Drew played 14 seasons in the NFL, six with my Rams!)
Behind the glamorous TV coverage, pro football is a brutal game (releasing on Dec. 1, watch the documentary, “Blood Equity”). A few players have excelled in the vastly different worlds of football and art, including Bernie Casey (once a Ram) and the late Ernie Barnes. After visiting Drew’s art studio, he’s definitely a part of this unique fraternity.
For 35 years, Drew has painted a pantheon of legends, including Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie and Jim Brown. He did a portrait of Kobe Bryant with such clarity that you’d swear it was a photograph. Incredibly, Drew has never taken a single art class in his life.
Drew came from a small town in rural Georgia. Undersized by NFL standards, he was the 238th player selected in the 1979 draft, which usually guarantees obscurity. Always the underdog, he was twice an All-Pro, and played in a Super Bowl.
What a life Drew has led. Twenty-five years ago he sold one of his paintings to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He’s been friends with Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, Burt Reynolds and the late Richard Pryor.
Drew’s owned nightclubs, appeared in movies and lived the American dream. But also the American nightmare. He’s battled drug, alcohol and steroid addiction. He’s lived in mansions and on the streets. Magically, all that is reflected in his art. As the saying goes, “The soul of the artist lies on the tip of the brush.”
Now, at 53, and facing serious health issues, Drew is painting full time, hoping to heal himself and financially help others (like the old woman outside his studio for whom the boardwalk bench is her home).
As gifted as Drew is, he’s never had an exhibition. He dreams that one day he’ll have a show in Santa Monica. By his talent and circumstances, hopefully it will happen soon.
As Drew was once a L.A. Ram, I have a feeling Aunt Amelia would have loved this column. But, then again, she was always was my biggest fan.
Drew can be reached at DrewHill75@gmail.com. Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.