It's been a few years since my sister, Tracey Cox and I co-wrote a book called "The Successful Rebel". We interviewed a group of astonishing people to see what had helped them get to where they were and one of them was Bill Jamieson, of Jamieson Tribal Arts.
Bill died suddenly on July 3, 2011. We found out about it when a magazine contacted my husband requesting permission to print Bill's picture from the photo shoot we did for book. I was quite surprised and saddened to hear he had passed. Bill was a very young 57 - lively, engaged, healthy and appeared to be very happy. He was also only 14 years older than me, and 10 years older than my sister, so it hit us harder than either of us expected.
What struck me most about Bill was his childlike wonder for the world and how much he loved his "job". It was really more of a calling, actually, and he had spooky recollections of how he came to be in the unusual line of work. When my husband, photographer James Ireland, and I visited Bill to take his portrait for the book, I was 4 months pregnant and showing already. I remember Bill making a comment that "we didn't waste any time" when hearing we'd only been married for a year before conceiving. He just assumed we were young, I guess, in much the same way he considered himself eternally young.
He was warm and welcoming in his amazing space. I'd truly never seen anything like it before and I doubt I'll ever see anything like it again: mummies, coffins, shrunken heads, exotic taxidermy, tribal masks, shields... an electric chair. It was a stunning collection of artifacts. We set up our clunky lighting equipment amongst all of these priceless pieces without Bill batting an eyelash. He was surprised by the trouble we were going to and flattered, it appeared. He even let me wrap his torso in yards and yards of gauze to evoke the mummies that had made him so famous (and wealthy). He worked with us for hours to get the right shot, never complaining, telling us amazing stories about how'd he'd come to have this or that piece, how he discovered Ramses the first, the amazing twists and turns his life had taken.
James was struck by his lack of pretension. I was struck by his enthusiasm for what he did. I was jealous of it, actually, as I am whenever I meet someone who is managing to pay the bills doing something they love. When we saw all three levels of the place, we knew he was doing more than just "paying the bills". He was flourishing.
We left that day with our tons of equipment and Bill and Jessica helped us get it to the car. He could have just shown us the door and hastily shooed us out, but he was far too polite and helpful for that. In the weeks and months following he invited us to many of his bashes. I wish we'd been able to attend but between my progressing pregnancy and James' health, it never made sense to go. Now I wish I had, at least once.
Tracey attended the Memorial Service last week and shared the following.
For our dear friend, Billy Jamieson… Long may your freak flag fly.
We first became aware of the force of nature that was Billy Jamieson when we interviewed him for our book, “The Successful Rebel”. Billy was an incredibly interesting interview subject, and his views on life, love and success were always commented upon when someone told us that they had read our book.
Billy was everyone’s hero, with the fantastical tale of his discovery of Ramses the first’s mummy and its subsequent journey back to the Cairo Museum. The romance and love of Egyptian culture and history calls to many of us, and it seemed that all of our readers wanted to know more about Billy Jamieson.
Billy told us many stories during the interview process, and after some reflection he would phone the next day and say things like “oh, you better not print that, someone might not like that." Billy was well aware that not everyone on earth was as open minded as himself, so it would have been nice to have written everything that he talked about. Every single story was so inspiring, and if someone judged him negatively, then perhaps they were really missing the point of being a Successful Rebel. They probably wouldn’t like our book either.
Billy’s business was called Golden Chariot Productions, and he told us the story of the name when we first started interviewing him. He was on a spiritual quest earlier in his life, and Billy met a Shaman in South America and did a ceremony where he had a vision. The vision was of a Golden Chariot, coming down to earth and picking Billy up. He then flew over the sands and pyramids of Egypt, never knowing that later in his life he would be flying the mummy of Ramses the first home to these same pyramids. It was his spirit guides sending him a message of the future. We all have dreams like this, it’s just very difficult to decipher them at the time. But Billy knew that it was a sign, and he got on with things. That was what everyone admired about him, he would make a decision and just get on with things, charming people into being just as enthusiastic as he was.
At his memorial service on July 26th which was held at the Liberty Grand in Toronto, a massive outpouring of love and admiration was offered to his family, from the crowd of approximately 1500 Billy fans. A diverse cross section of artists, collectors, business people, and entertainment industry insiders shared stories about Billy and offered support for the loved ones left behind. We hope and pray that Billy’s work in the area of art and antiquities will continue in some form, and that his Golden Chariot will continue to fly.
I didn't know Bill well, but I am glad to have met him.
On to the next great adventure, Billy!