The amazing Billy Preston died 12 years ago today. He was one of the great music stars of all time– the only artist ever listed on a Beatles record on the label– “Get Back” by The Beatles and Billy Preston. He had massive #1 hits including “Will it Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing from Nothing.” He co-wrote the famous Joe Cocker hit, “You are So Beautiful to Me.”
Billy died after spending six months in a coma on June 6th, 2006. But I can tell you exclusively that three days before Billy’s death, on June 3rd, his sister Rodena Preston– now deceased herself– decided he was dead anyway. In a shocking move, she opened a probate case on him. Billy was not dead yet, and not even in the throes of dying. But Rodena– whom Billy had cut out of his life, along with with the rest of his family– filed a petition as if he were gone. She wanted his money. Probates are always filed after a person has stopped breathing. You need a death certificate. She didn’t have one.
caption this: Death before dying.
A dozen years later, Preston’s estate has still not been settled. His manager and business partner, Joyce Moore, acting on his wishes (which, in full disclosure, I heard Billy declare many times), has weathered a long legal storm to get justice for Billy and end this nightmare. First she had to settle a long and complicated bankruptcy proceeding that took years. But even with that behind her, Preston’s avaricious extended “family” continues to cause trouble.
Rodena Preston’s early probate filing was made by her son in law, an attorney named Bill Hence, Jr. who ultimately resigned by the California Bar “with charges pending.” Rodena, in order to pull off this scheme, claimed Preston had died “in testate” without a will, when in fact in 2004 he had disinherited her and the whole family from his will and his 1999 probate avoidance trust.
Now that Rodena is dead, the newest stumbling block to putting Billy’s estate to bed is a possible illegitimate half sister who calls herself Lettie Preston. But “Lettie Preston,” who claims to have been the product of an affair Billy’s dad had, has no birth certificate and no paperwork to prove her relation. She believes she’s a Preston, but has no way to back it up. This past January, Lettie Preston filed a response to a motion with the court objecting to being asked for a birth certificate showing that George Preston, Billy’s father, was hers as well.
(Lettie Preston actually wrote me an email in September 2010, disputing statements I made then about what was at the time a four year old case. Now it’s a twelve year old case. In that time she has not been able to advance her cause with anything but hearsay.)
Will it go round in circles? Moore, who is married to R&B great Sam Moore, used to drive Billy to weekly dialysis treatments in his later years when he lived in Arizona– not California, where he died and where his family insists he was a resident. When Preston slipped into a coma, it was Moore who cared for him and even welcomed Eric Clapton to Preston’s bedside. (Clapton hoped to wake Billy up by playing him their records, but to no avail.)
At his penultimate performance– at the Atlantis in the Bahamas for Sam Moore’s 70th birthday, October 2005– I asked Billy about his sisters, legit or otherwise. “I don’t want anything to do with them,” he said quite emphatically. I never forgot it. It’s hoped that sometime soon Billy Preston’s real wishes will be carried out and he can actually rest in peace.