Billy McCune


Billy George McCune  born Waco, Texas 1928
alive and free, August 2007

From: Louis Rodemann
Date: October 1, 2007 10:10:53 PM EDT
To: Danny Lyon
Subject: Billy

Dear Danny,  Billy died this afternoon about 1:30.   He had gotten much weaker in recent weeks, was hardly able to eat anything, and barely recognized me, no communication………
Tomorrow there will be a discussion about arrangements.  He will be cremated, and then at a future date agreeable to whomever would want to attend, we can have a memorial.   Peace, to you dear Billy.  Peace,  Louis.


Danny Lyon met Billy George McCune in 1968 when Lyon was making his book, Conversations with the Dead, inside the Texas Department of Corrections. McCune, sentenced to Death in 1950 on a dubious charge of rape, had survived two years on death row, when his sentence was adjudicated to Life.  In 1960 the TDC classified him as psychotic. When the two met, McCune was in the isolation ward of the Wynne Unit, literally surrounded by lunatics. He had been in prison for 18  years.  The collaboration of Lyon and McCune resulted in an outpouring of work from the supposedly psychotic inmate.

In 1971 Lyon edited and had published The Autobiography of Billy McCune. It took another 35 years for the tape recordings Lyon made of McCune in prison to reach the world.  Matt Ozug, of Sound Portraits has produced a short radio piece based on these recordings. Click here for the StoryCorps website.

Probably because of the publication of The Autobiography, McCune  was released from  the Texas Prison around 1974.  In 1980 he appeared in Lyon’s film Born to Film.  During this time McCune also produced a remarkable series of water colors, all done in prison, and mailed to Lyon while he lived in Manhattan and New Mexico in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  The water colors were exhibited  at Rice university, along with Lyon’s photographs in a show curated by Dominique De Menil in 1970. These  powerful and beautiful expressions of a human soul are reproduced here for the first time anywhere.