Bring Bill To the Ville!

Murray as Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam
Murray as Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam

Bill Murray isn’t just a celebrity. He’s the celebrity. He was also close friends with the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. That’s a whole added level of cool, and there aren’t many people alive or dead who can add cool factor to Murray’s resume.

Thompson’s hometown of Louisville, Ky., honors him each year with GonzoFest, a gathering involving booze, art, booze, music, booze, food, booze, readings and booze, as well as tributes to the writer, whose legacy is still large, not just in the city but around the world.

But this year, Gonzo Fest co-founder Dennie Humphrey is pulling out all the stops – he wants Murray to actually come to Louisville to participate in the event, which is April 11 and 12. As such, Humphrey and his PR team have launched the social media tag #billtotheville and are doing their damndest to get the Bring-Bill wave building. He even got Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to record a video plea to Murray explaining why the city “needs” him there.

“The idea is to let the whole city know, so then they’ll start sharing,” Humphrey says.

But he’s doing more than just relying on social media campaigns. Murray famously doesn’t use an agent – instead, there is an 800 number to Murray’s lawyer where pitches can be made. Humphrey has been burning it up, leaving messages explaining the festival and why Murray’s presence would be so vital.

“There’s a lady that always answers,” Humphrey said. “Then it goes to a recording. In the recordings, I basically say I want to cordially invite Bill Murray to the home of the great Hunter S. Thompson.”

But there’s more. Another Gonzo Fest member, Louisvillian Derrick Pedolzky, met a guy who claimed to have Murray’s private number; the man told Pedolzky he would give the former Saturday Night Live cast member a call to pass along the invitation personally. The guy, whose name isn’t really known at this point, apparently is a cigar vendor – which sort of makes it more believable.

In addition, local media is getting behind the movement. Ron Whitehead is a poet who was close friends with Thompson, and he wrote a cover story for Louisville’s alternative mag LEO Weekly. A news site that covers Louisville news, Insider Louisville, also spread the word.

One of the hooks being used is that Humphrey is going to have Murray declared an honorary Kentucky Colonel in hopes of getting them to Gonzo Fest for a staged ceremony. Meanwhile, the festival has been moved to a bigger venue than ever before – the city’s Waterfront Park on the banks of the Ohio River – and a fundraiser is under way to erect a statue of Thompson.

BilltotheVille poster
BilltotheVille poster

Even if Murray does show, Humphrey expects it will be an out-of-the-blue appearance, not something planned. That could make such a ceremony difficult to pull off, or alternatively it could give Murray a reason to get there at a certain time for a big entrance. But one can bet he won’t be telling the festival organizers in advance.

“I’ve heard stories that if you send him the itinerary he just shows up,” Humphrey says. “He will get a copy of that.”

So, realistically, what are the chances Murray attends? Humphrey sounds momentarily caught off guard when asked that question.

“Oh shit,” he says. “I mean … with enough outpouring and with my heart in and if he doesn’t have a movie, 25 percent. They were friends, there’s lot of cool stuff out there about [Thompson].”

Humphrey said he believes Murray will be most moved when he gets word of the demand of the city wanting him here, not just two guys wanting to do a Gonzo Fest.”

In addition to the mayor, Humphrey is also trying to get University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino – who is a legit celebrity in this basketball state – and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth on board to make videos. These videos will be added to those of Louisville residents to create one long video collage that will attempt to lure Murray here to honor his late friend.

Hey, it could happen. Murray is well known for crashing bachelor parties, showing up at weddings and so forth. Humphrey said most of those appearances happen following phone calls to the 800 number. With local politicians and sports celebrities getting in on the act, it may boil down to Murray’s schedule, mood and just how weird and unexpected an impromptu appearance – perhaps dressed in Thompson-esque attire like Murray wore when he played the writer in the film Where the Buffalo Roam – might be for him to decide to make an appearance.

“Everything is kind of out in the open with what we’re trying to do,” Humphrey says. “The biggest thing  is to keep urging everyone. We just really need everyone to jump in.”

And for Murray to hear all those voice mail messages.