Written by: Billy Bob Thornton & Kinky Friedman
Published by: William Morrow & Company
There is - and could only ever be - one Billy Bob Thornton: actor, musician, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, and accidental Hollywood badass. In The Billy Bob Tapes, he leads us into his Cave Full of Ghosts, spinning colorful tales of his modest (to say the least) Southern upbringing, his bizarre phobias (komoda dragons?), his life, his loves (including his marriage to fellow Oscar winner Angelina Jolie), and, of course, his movie career.
Best of all, he’s feeding these truly incredible stories and righteous philosophical rants through his close friend, Kinky Friedman—legendary country music star, bestselling author, would-be politician, and all-around bon vivant. Put these two iconoclasts together and you get a star’s story that’s actually an insightful pop culture manifesto—a hybrid offspring of Born Standing Up with Sh*t My Dad Says.
Angelina Jolie wrote an introduction for her former husband and now friend Billy Bob Thornton's autobiography. She writes very kindly about Billy and it's clear that they are still close and good friends to this day. And as Billy said himself while doing press for the book, "Angelina is a wonderful woman. I'll love her to the end of my life, and she will me. As friends."
"That's something that no one will ever know. I have a number attached to all of the people I love. It represents something. We had a great time together. We had a great marriage and I chickened out because I didn't feel good enough. That's all that happened. It was no big deal, we never hated each other."
- Billy Bob Thornton, when asked what "number four" refers to
Billy Bob Thornton
by Angelina Jolie
Where to begin? I first heard from shared friends that there was this man who was “like the hillbilly Orson Welles.” I couldn’t imagine how that description would manifest itself. Then I saw Sling Blade.
I sat alone in a theatre full of strangers equally engrossed in the film. Every nuance. Every facial gesture. The sound of the chair as it’s dragged along the floor. The characters. Each one completely original and yet it’s as if you knew them intimately. You watch as the filmmaker helps you to understand a place in time and people who he knows so well. You are getting to know him. His mind. His humanity.
Through the years I’ve know Billy I’ve learned that not only was he as interesting, a truly original, as had been told to me, but that he as also so much more. I smile as I write this, as my institution is to say, simply, he is not a “normal person.” But he isn’t. I have known him now for more than a decade and I still haven’t quite figured him out. Not that I want to. The puzzle is so much fun.
But I know this-
He has an unmatchable wit and can make you laugh until your face hurts.
He has insomnia; he uses it to work obsessively on music until the sun comes up. My favourite recordings are when he tells a story. I like his raw voice with only hints of sounds that illustrate the feeling behind the story. He knows what I mean. “The sound of the rain hitting the tin roof…”
He had a talking bird he trained by forcing it to listen to hours of Captain Beefheart. She liked to swear.
He’s a bit agoraphobic, and it’s really a miracle that he gets out of the house to make films. If he could shoot them in his basement he would.
I threw a surprise party once, ignoring the fact he hates crowds and being social. When they said “Surprise,” it was as if he had been stabbed in the gut. He went pale and had to hide in the kitchen.
He did eventually come out.
Billy’s mother is psychic, and he worries he, too, has the gift. He can’t tell the difference between a dream, a thought, and a dangerous premonition. It’s why he has to correct it in his mind. He has to put things back into alignment. To be with him is like being with a mad mathematician. He is constantly counting and repeating.
To him, I am the number four. May sound strange, but it means a lot to me.
We often joke about how much I loved Ed Crane, the character from The Man Who Wasn’t There. He was beautiful in that. But I also knew things that others didn’t notice. I remember there was a courtroom scene, and when the judge would bang the gavel, Billy would squirm. The thing is, it wasn’t because of the scene, it was Billy trying to work out his ICD and the judge kept hitting the gavel a different number of times. Sometimes a good number. Sometimes not. And Billy was squirming trying to will him to hit it again.
He hated Komodo dragons, and even reading this he will shiver at the name. There was one incident… hard to explain. Can’t really.
He watches old sixties TV shows to remember better, simpler times when he feels down. If he’s not watching that, he’s following baseball.
One of my favourite things is to watch Billy play an entire game of baseball with himself on the tennis court. Only himself. Not easy to do. The throws the ball, calls out the action moment to moment. He catches the ball. Scolds or congratulates his teammates. It’s fascinating. Some who don’t know him well might call it crazy if they washed it for hours on end. But then, you don’t know Billy.
Billy still writes all his songs and film scripts on yellow legal pads. He scribbles on them and often draw pictures of ugly characters doing something ironic. I remember one morning waking up and he had been up al night filling one of those yellow pads with a story. Just one night and it was done. Perfectly done. And then, being Billy, he put it away and didn’t write again for years.
I keep trying to convince him to go spend time on a porch in the South and write the Great American Novel. I know it’s in him. I hope we get to read it one day. Maybe he’s already written it, on one of those yellow pads. And he’s put it away somewhere. Somewhere that may never be seen. I wouldn’t put it past him.
Most of all, he would die for his family. He has a big beautiful heart.
Some people walk through life able to quiet the voices in their heads. He can’t. And I, and everyone else who knows him well, we love him for it. I know one thing: the world would certainly be a hell of a lot more dull if that man weren’t in it.
Billy Bob Thornton was raised in Arkansas amid a rich storytelling tradition. See, the South is just different than other places… You can feel the ghosts. These stories didn’t have to be made up. The characters were already there. Thus was borne his Oscar®-winning masterpiece Sling Blade and now The Billy Bob Tapes—based on late-night conversations with friends who gathered ’round to hear Billy mine a cave full of ghosts.
Billy grew up shooting squirrels, playing drums, and dreaming of rock ‘n’ roll and baseball. At sixteen he met the drama teacher who first encouraged his talent. Billy recalls struggling and nearly starving in Hollywood—but also encountering compassion and wisdom from people like legendary director Billy Wilder, who advised: “Write about your interesting life.”
The Billy Bob Tapes tells of collaboration, friendship, and loss, while reflecting on fame, culture, filmmaking, and entertainment itself. With passion, unvarnished honesty, wry humor, and a little help from friends Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Epperson, and Daniel Lanois, Billy Bob finally talks.