April 24, 2002
‘Retro Bill’ teaches lasting
safety lessons to
By Anne Marie Apollo
ELGIN – If anyone
can look wholesome while wearing a leopard-print jacket over a lime-green
shirt, it’s “Retro Bill” Russ.
With the wardrobe of
a Las Vegas lounge singer but a clean-cut message about safety and the
importance of individuality, Russ is the national star of Drug Abuse
Resistance safety videos.
Tuesday, he made a
personal appearance at Gifford Elementary School in his first assembly in
the state since he created the Retro Bill character.
every sentence with the word “cool” and thumping sound effects created
with a microphone, Russ explained to Gifford school’s younger children why
they shouldn’t go with strangers, even if a person says he only wants
“If a stranger is
really lost, they can go buy a map,” he said, whipping one out as an
Far from being a
superhero or perfect role model, Retro Bill makes mistakes, and he knows
kids do, too.
“How many of you
have not listened to what Mom and Dad said and regretted it later?” he
asked Tuesday as little hands shot up into the air.
“Yeah, Retro Bill,
too,” he said.
Elgin DARE Officer
Tamara Welter said Russ is able to adjust his act to appeal to different
Later in the day, he
spoke with older elementary school about drugs, grinding cigarettes and
beer up in a blender as he did so.
Many of the same
messages Russ delivered personally to kids this week can also be found on
DARE safety videos, which Russ produced, financed and donated to the
presentation and original look let kids know it’s good to stand up for
themselves and be unique, Welter said.
Russ peppers his
advice about safety with some words on life, especially life in the
Retro Bill loves
In America, he told
his young audience, kids have the freedom to grow up to be whatever they
want, be it a policeman, a teacher or, in Russ’ case, a Hollywood
“How about a little
applause for America? Cool,” he said.
By not using drugs
or getting involved in gangs, Russ was able to move from Elgin, where he
was born, and Aurora, where he was raised, to Hollywood, where he makes a
That’s where he
found that his Retro Bill persona, inspired by Elvis and the movie
American Graffiti appeals not only to kids, but also to high-schoolers
and even adults.
That means that Russ
himself appeals to all of those people, too.
Retro Bill, Russ
explained, is just Bill Russ turned up a little bit louder.
What that boils down
to is Russ wearing his kitchsy clothes and his hair in a pompadour every
day, even when he’s not speaking to kids.
He sees it as a
celebration of life, he said.
Copyright The Courier News 2002
RETRO BILL™ is a registered
Bill Russ Productions, Inc.
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is a registered trademark of D.A.R.E. America.
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