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Whatever Happened to … Bill Lee

 

Bill Lee was a well-known magazine and syndicated newspaper cartoonist from the 1970s to,
well, whenever.

Said Allan Holtz:

Cartoonist Bill Lee was one of the crop of excellent new gag cartoonists to come out of the 1970s, a time when cartoons about battling spouses and family pets were giving way to more esoteric, avant-garde material. Lee honed his skills in underground comics, then at magazines like Penthouse, Omni and National Lampoon. His signature style, which looks like a handful of bits of string tossed casually on a drawing board, is instantly recognizeable.

A 1990 newspaper notice:

Bill Lee’s name comes up because, through a series of unexpected occurrences,
Steven Heller came in possession of several pieces of Bill’s work.

Not only did I know Bill Lee, but for many years we had a close working relationship and deep friendship. Bill was one of a new breed of satiric gag cartoonists. He had a singularly fluid linear style. He was also the humor editor of Penthouse and Viva magazines and he created one of my favorite comic sculptures: President Richard Nixon as a shrunken head**, which he made into a poster that hung on my office wall. Bill also suggested the title of my second book, Man Bites Man: Two Decades of Satiric Art, in which his work was featured prominently.

I haven’t seen Bill in over 30 years.

But Steven’s interest was piqued.

I began seeking out clues to my estranged friend’s whereabouts.

I found no record of Bill’s death on Google or Wikipedia. I found no personal website. Although he was often published, very few of his cartoons are archived online, even under the tag “Penthouse.”

Read Steven’s account of receiving the artwork and his search for the artist.

 


note: Steven Heller says that is NOT a self-portrait on the NCS mini-bio card

 

“But wait, maybe I could turn something up,” thought I.

AskArt had a brief profile:

Bill Lee, a Brooklyn native, won four international awards for cartoon artwork in magazine publishing. He was among the first cartoonists contacted for the New York Times op-ed page, which was newly created at the time. Lee has been featured in numerous exhibitions of paintings and sculptures around the world. Known as “The Humor Editor” for the General Media Publication Empire, Lee was a close confidant and friend to Bob Guccione and Kathy Keaton. Much of his work – featured in Omni Magazine and Penthouse Magazine – has been lost over the years. “The Guccione Collection” has a number of the remaining original works, such as the “Big Name Athletes” and “Martini Man” series from 70’s & 80’s.

Then very promising was finding Bill Lee’s full name and birth date from
a Google Books snippet of Bill Lee’s entry in Contemporary Graphic Artists (1986):

William Saul Lee (Bill Lee) born November 15, 1938,
with his daughter’s name matching with his NCS mini-bio card!
And his home was in Sharon.
Well, now I was getting somewhere.

 

That somewhere was 121 Mudge Pond Rd, Sharon, CT 06069

Where the search gets stuck.

This page says the property was sold in December 2019.

Here’s a page that says William S. Lee “resides” in New York,
but where do those Texas, Virginia, and Maryland locations come from?

The Sharon Cemetery has a reserved spot for William Lee
with no death date and again saying he lives in New York City.

Finally here is a page saying William Lee is “deceased.”
That William Lee lived in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area
(where that Cartoon Art Museum in the appearance note above is located).

But William Lee is a very popular name so there are no sureties to any of this.
So it is still a mystery as to whatever happened to Bill Lee.

 

The above two cartoons comes from Funny Times where
they list Bill Lee as a contributor to their March 2019 edition.

If anyone knows the fate of Bill Lee let us know.
(Currently let us know at our Facebook page.)

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