Say the name Billy Van in Hamilton and eyes tend to light up.
Born Billy Van Evera in 1934, the iconic Canadian comedian and actor was known for his work as a performer on CBC’s late-night programme Nightcap.
South of the border, the Canadian funnyman was known best for being the face of Colt 45 Malt Liquor. He also appeared on Sonny and Cher.
But of course, although it was filmed for only nine months in the early 1970s, Van’s name is synonymous with The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, in which he played several characters. That show, along with the Canadian charades show Party Game, was filmed in its entirety at the CHCH-TV studios on Jackson Street West in Hamilton.
Van passed away in 2003. The private lives of a lot of actors and performers are often shrouded in secrecy, with people not really knowing much about them off the stage and screen. So was the case with Van — until now. Award-winning Toronto-based author Greg Oliver has just released a book chronicling the comedian’s life, both professionally and personally.
Who’s the Man? Billy Van! was released in December just before Christmas, and is making the rounds among fans and those in show biz who worked with Van — including acclaimed funny man Brent Butt of CTV’s Corner Gas, who says he “can’t wait to read it.”
Oliver describes Van as an “overlooked Canadian icon.”
“When I asked about his personal life, and what they knew about Billy the man, nobody really had much to say. He was a very private person.”
Oliver began talks with local Hamiltonian Stacey Case, a Billy Van super fan who at one point ran the Billy Van Museum on King Street in the city’s east end. Though its doors are closed for now, a Billy Van Facebook page run by Case has more than 1,200 fan followers at last count.
In an interview on CHML’s The Scott Thompson show, Oliver says, “Anytime you start prying, you’re going to find things and it was great fun prying into his private life and finding out all these things.”
And pry he did, even finding out details of Van’s personal life that were unbeknownst to some members of his own family.
“You’re gonna learn a lot about a guy you thought you knew,” Oliver said.
More information about the Van, and the book documenting his life, can be found at BillyVan.ca