Elgin, Illinois                                     April 24, 2002

‘Retro Bill’ teaches lasting
safety lessons to Gifford students

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.

    Punctuating nearly 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 directions.

    “If a stranger is really lost, they can go buy a map,” he said, whipping one out as an example. “Cool.”

    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 age groups.

    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 program.

    His upbeat 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 United States.

    Retro Bill loves America.

    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 personality.

    “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 living.

    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 trademark of
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