Original Document
Original Document
Miles Davis on the Death of Billie Holiday, 1989.

I remember when Billie Holiday died in July 1959. I didn't know Billie all that well; we didn't hang out or nothing like that. Billie loved my son, Gregory. She used to think he was cute. I knew that she and her husband weren't getting along because she said to me once, "Miles, I told him he could leave me alone. He could have our house, everything, but just leave me alone." But that was all I remember her telling me that was personal.... I remember her being a very warm, nice woman, and she had that smooth, light-brown skinned Indian look before drugs destroyed her face. She and Carmen McRae reminded me of the way my mother looked, Carmen more so than Billie. Billie was a beautiful woman before all the alcohol and drugs wore her down.

The last time I saw her alive was when she came down to Birdland where I was playing in early 1959. She asked me to give her some money to buy some heroin and I gave her what I had. I think it was about a hundred dollars. Her husband, John (I forget his last name), kept her on the stuff so he could control her. He was an opium user himself. He used to be telling me to come and lay on the sofa with him and smoke opium. I never did it with him, never smoked opium once in my life. He kept all the drugs and gave them to Billie whenever he felt like it; this was his way of keeping her in line. John was one of those slick hustling street cats from Harlem who'd do anything for money...

Whenever I'd go see her, I always asked Billie to sing "I Loves You, Porgy," because when she sang "don't let him touch me with his hot hands," you could almost feel that s*** she was feeling. It was beautiful and sad the way she sang that. Everybody loved Billie.

She and Bird [Charlie Parker] died the same way. They both had pneumonia. One time down in Philadelphia they kept Billie in jail overnight for drugs. Maybe it was a couple of days, I don't remember. But I know they had her in jail. So she's in there sweating and then being cold and stuff. When you are trying to break a habit, you get hot and cold, and if you don't get the proper medical treatment, you go right into pneumonia. And that's what happened with Billie and Bird. When somebody gets backed up with that dope - using, stopping, using, stopping - and then when it gets into your system, you die. It just kills you and that's what happened to Billie and Bird; they just gave in to all the s*** they was doing. Got tired of everything and just checked out.

Credit: Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, The Autobiography of Miles Davis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
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