I originally wrote and posted this on my Facebook page back on Sept. 14, 2019. It was to help friends and fans of Bill Schelly understand Bill’s seemingly “sudden” death. It turns out Bill had actually been fading for months, but most people (including Bill) either didn’t realize it or understand how serious his condition was.
I’m posting it here because I thought there should be a more permanent and easily found record of my friend’s final few months:
Sudden deaths are always the hardest. So news of Bill Schelly’s death came as a horrible shock to many friends and fans this morning.
I’ll admit that I’ve known about Bill’s passing since about 3 a.m., Thursday (Sept. 12.) I saw Bill at University Hospital here in Seattle about 12 hours earlier and it was obvious that his death was imminent. I apologize to our many mutual friends for not saying anything ’til now. A friend of Bill’s family requested that word not go out ’til tomorrow so that all members of his extended family and critical contacts could be informed first.
Alas, word started to leak out last night. And this morning it turned into a torrent of grief and shock on social media.
To many, Bill was the greatest historian and biographer that the comic book community has ever had. To those of us who knew him personally, he was also a kind, considerate and witty friend. So, it must be doubly troubling that Bill was not letting most people know that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
I first learned that Bill was having a problem on June 10. In an e-mail he begged off on going to a movie with me that day because:
“Unfortunately, I woke up yesterday with my back thrown totally out of whack. I know when this happens that it gradually heals itself, but it takes a week to two weeks for that to happen. During that time, I have no enthusiasm for doing anything more than I must. I can get to the store, or I can handle going up and down my stairs very slowly, but that’s about it.
Apologies for my body breaking down more and more in the recent years!! It’s painful in more ways than one.
I’ll let you know when I’m feeling better.”
But, as time went on, instead of healing, he was in more and more pain. After a few weeks, he was initially diagnosed as having a broken rib. Then—sometime later—as having four broken ribs!
Even so, Bill expected to get better. But as the months dragged on, his pain got worse. I started going over a couple of times a week to take out his garbage, go the post office for him, etc. Another friend, Nils Osmar would take him grocery shopping. Family member Renie Jones took him to doctor appointments and helped him in other critical ways. And there were others who apparently helped.
Throughout this Bill never gave into despair—at least when I was with him. I’m not saying he didn’t have moments of panic and depression privately. But, if he did, he didn’t let on. Yes, he was exhausted and frustrated. But that’s about as far as he’d go.
By mid August, his doctor had determined that Bill wasn’t healing because there was something wrong with the blood cells in his bones. Although he still didn’t have an official diagnosis of cancer, Bill knew there was a strong likelihood that bad news was coming. I told me that whatever happened he had no regrets. He’d accomplished everything that he’d set out to do and he was at peace.
Sometime shortly after Aug. 20, Bill learned that he had multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow.) It could be treated, but couldn’t be cured. With luck, he’d live another two to five years. With even more luck, longer.
By Sept 6, though, he was in the hospital getting chemo. By Sept. 8, he had a major complication: a blood clot in his lungs. By Sept. 11, the blood clot had broken apart and was no longer contained. During the night, he passed away.
Maybe this is TMI. But I know people have questions about Bill’s “sudden death.” And it WAS sudden in some ways. But like a train that you think you’ve got plenty of time to avoid, it was something that started off slow (broken rib) and far off (June) but then it comes round the bend at full steam hits you when you get your foot stuck in the tracks.
Comic Book Historian Bill Schelly’s “Sudden” Death—a TimelineI will miss you, Bill. No more movies together. No more long, funny and insightful conversations. No more brilliant books!