- Early Days.
Born on the 24th November, 1942 on the kitchen floor of 65 Dover Street, Anderston, Glasgow to his mother Mary and his father, William, the son of an Irish immigrant and optical instrument technician. Despite promising early years, he was schooled ultimately unsuccessfully at St. Gerard's Secondary School due to his growing dislike of the place and lack of patience for homework, having spent two years without having done any at all.
"I got belted every day for it, but when I weighed it up, I would much rather have the belt than do the homework. I started to develop this way of thinking: be your individual self and just forget the rest. Not so much that I thought school was wrong, I just knew I wasn't happy in what I was doing."
He left school a year early at fifteen with only a J1 and J2 certificate in engineering and undertook a couple of delivery boy jobs until he was sixteen, an age which allowed him to be eligible for an apprenticeship at the shipyard. Ironically, his minimal school results overqualified him to be an apprentice engineer, so he opted instead to become a welder.
"They were choosing middle-class guys, guys who'd obviously come from grammar-type schools, and they were becoming engineers. But I became a welder, and I'm glad. Because I think if I'd become an engineer, I would have gone to sea, and that would have been the end of that, or I'd probably now be working up on the oil rigs as an engineer. But I became a welder, and I loved it, because they called us the Black Squad, the welders, cokers, platers, riveters, and other guys that get dirty. I loved their company, and their patter was great."
- Sex, Drugs and Folk 'n' Roll.
During his five-year apprenticeship he joined the parachute regiment of the Territorial Army in an effort to make himself a little more 'windswept and interesting' as well as taking an interest in playing the banjo. He became involved with the folkie crowd that frequented The Scotia Bar in Glasgow and joined various bands, eventually forming The Skillet-Lickers and later joining The Acme Brush Company.
Shortly after his apprenticeship ended, he was employed for a couple of jobs as a journeyman welder, the first being a well-paid, ten-week contract on an in-progress oil-rig in Nigeria, followed by a power station in Jersey before returning home to Glasgow. Spending a short amount of time back the the Glasgow shipyards, he returned to music and formed The Humblebums with Tam Harvey and was signed to the Transatlantic label, later to become a trio with the introduction of Gerry Rafferty.
As the band's singer, Billy would fill in the gaps between songs with jokes and light comedic patter which was slowly becoming more successful at drawing in the crowds than the music itself. When Tam quit the band, Billy and Gerry continued as a duo and went on to record two albums whilst enjoying a hedonistic rock 'n' roll lifestyle of touring and all-night parties. Also during this time Billy met Iris Pressagh, an interior designer from Springburn and they wed in 1969, closely followed in December of the same year, the birth of their son, Jamie.
As The Humblebums progressed, Billy's pater between songs were beginning to grow longer than the songs, much to the distaste of Rafferty. His sensibilities seemed to deny any chances of being a serious musician and disagreements about the content of the show forced the band to split up in 1971. With his music increasingly taking a back seat to his comedy, he carried on as a solo performer and became known primarily as a comedian, developing his style further around Scotland and northern England.
- The Comedy Route.
Despite a slow start to his comedy career, his popularity had grown so much by 1974 that he could afford to relocate his family (with the recent addition of a daughter, Cara) to a luxurious country home in Drymen, Stirlingshire and had a number one single with D.I.V.O.R.C.E in 1975. However, to balance his popularity was a handful of morally-outraged Catholics unhappy with his habit of using his comedy to poke fun at religion. One of his sketches about The Last Supper being held in Gallowgate rather than Galilee with Jesus and the Apostles protrayed as Glaswegians prompted Pastor Jack Glass to publicly label him a 'blasphemous buffoon':
"In this cassette recording, Connolly depicts Christ as wearing a jaggy bunnet and entering a pub, steamin' drunk. Christ is further depicted as urinating on a Roman soldier who pierced him with a spear on the Cross. We call upon every Christian who loves The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to organize a protest outside the halls in Scotland where Connolly - the blasphemous buffoon - will be performing."
It was thanks to rants like this that Billy's audience grew in numbers and he started to look further afield to find audiences, taking in America, Canada and Australia. His presence in Australia wasn't welcomed at first when a show at the City Hall in Brisbane in 1977 had an unimpressed audience storming the stage and demanding refunds. With that being a single hiccup in an otherwise successful tour, Billy returned to the UK to launch The Billy Connolly Extravaganza, a fifty-three date tour that came to an end at the Apollo theatre in Glasgow.
Going from strength to strength with his comedy and with a short, critically unappreciated spell as a playwright, Billy turned his hand to acting, and appeared alongside Richard Burton in Absolution and the leading role in a BBC TV play, The Elephants Graveyard in which he played a man frustrated with a life of poverty.
With near-constant touring at the start of the eighties and a troubled marriage at home, Billy and Iris split-up in August 1981 and he began seeing his current wife, Pamela Stephenson whom he met when he was approached to appear in a sketch by the Not The NIne o'Clock News team. Although Iris blaimed the breakdown of their marriage on 'showbusiness', the papers speculated that Pamela was more to blame than Billy had made out. Regardless, he moved into her house in Knightsbridge and, with the help of counselling at the London Buddhist Centre, gave up his heavy drinking and learned to meditate. He also became semi-vegitarian, still allowing himself fish.
In August, 1983, Billy went to court to fight for the custody of Jamie and Cara while his first child with Pamela was on the way. Daisy was born on New Years Eve of the same year but his divorce with Iris wasn't settled until 1985 with the official custody of the children being granted to Billy. He and Pamela were married in Fiji in December of 1989. He toured his comedy further and released a video, Billy and Albert, recorded during his run at The Royal Albert Hall in London.
- America Calling.
"It's really hard to get famous in America. The bastards won't let you do it."
- from 'Billy and Albert: Billy Connolly at the Royal Albert Hall'
At the start of the nineties, Pamela was appearing on Saturday Night Live allowing Billy to make a few guest appearances. After recording a HBO special with Whoopi Goldberg, he was spotted by the producer of Head Of The Class on the strength of his involvement with an abandoned pilot for a TV Dead Poets Society spin-off, he was signed for twenty-two episodes. More success fell into his lap and Warner extended his contract to two years, although shortly after the series was scrapped. He then went on to take the lead role in Billy which ran for thirteen episodes.
When Pamela obtained her green card from the Immigration Department, they bought a house in Hollywood overlooking Universal Studios. A brief cameo role in Indecent Proposal beckoned before returning to Glasgow to appear in Down Among The Big Boys written by his friend Peter McDougall and presenting the BBC arts programme The Bigger Picture. Still drawn to his home town, he launched his World Tour of Scotland in 1994, filming a documentary detailing his love for his native country for the BBC at the same time. The massive public and critical accliam for the show led to the screening of his next adventure, A Scot In The Arctic, and a World Tour of Australia. The 1995 Scottish BAFTAs had Billy picking up awards for Best Entertainment Programme and Best Drama for World Tour of Scotland and Down Among The Big Boys respectively. The Bigger Picture also scooped the award for Best Arts Programme.
- Billy Luvvie.
His talent as an actor was gaining speed at an alarming rate, reaching a peak with his appearance alongside Dame Judi Dench in the 1997 historical drama, Mrs. Brown and an outstanding performance in the violent, gritty drama The Debt Collector although his part in the woefully underseen and ludicrously overwonderful Boondock Saints alongside Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus and Willem Defoe somehow passed by the majority of the international populace.
Although his film and television work had massively increased in the UK he was still living in Los Angeles, only to return home in 1999 having bought an estate mansion in Perthsire where he still resides, playing out his role as benevolant Laird of the Big House, and enjoying landowners rights to local fishing.
In 2001 his autobiography, written by Pamela Stephenson, was released detailing his life in over three hundred pages. For the future, Billy will continue to perform comedy to packed theatres and act until he no longer is able to stand up or talk. The world hasn't had enough of The Big Yin yet by a long shot.
1999: One Night Stand Down Under
1997: Billy Connolly: Two Night Stand
1996: World Tour of Australia
1994: Billy Connolly Live 1994
1992: 25 BC: The Best of 25 Years of Billy Connolly
1991: Live at the Odeon Hammersmith London
1987: Billy and Albert: Billy Connolly at the Royal Albert Hall
1985: An Audience with Billy Connolly
1982: The Pick of Billy Connolly
1981: Billy Connolly 'Bites Yer Bum!'
2001: Gentlemen's Relish Kingdom Swann
2001: Gabriel & Me Gabriel
2000: An Everlasting Piece Scalper
2000: Beautiful Joe Joe
1999: The Boondock Saints Il Duce
1999: The Debt Collector Nickie Dryden
1998: Middleton's Changeling Alibius
1998: Still Crazy Hughie
1998: The Impostors Sparks
1997: Paws PC (voice)
1997: Mrs. Brown John Brown
1996: Muppet Treasure Island Capt. Billy Bones
1995: Pocahontas Ben (voice)
1993: Indecent Proposal Auction MC
1990: The Big Man Frankie
1989: The Return of the Musketeers Caddie
1987: The Hunting of the Snark The Bellman
1983: Bullshot Hawkeye McGillicuddy
1981: Absolution Blakey