Who Was Billy De’Acutis?:
William “Billy” De’Acutis was born September 17th, 1957 in Fairfield, Connecticut. Billy attended The Julliard School in New York where he pursued his love for acting, in the drama department. He went on to star in movies such as “9 ½ weeks”, “Trust me”, and “Other people’s money” which was dedicated to him, as he died before the movie was released. Billy De’Acutis was a caring and accepting man who was known to take in stray cats, dogs, and people. In a letter from Kathleen Dederian she stated “His taste in clothes, interior design and men was impeccable.”(2) It is safe to say Mr. De’Acutis lived his life with joy, charisma and humor, making the best of each day he was given.
During his last few years Billy began to write plays, monologues, movies and comedy sketches; he used writing as a way deal with and reveal his torment and shock towards living with AIDS and the thought of his death. One play written by Billy, was a comedy entitled “Stuck in bed” in which Billy loses his lover to his best friend (who happens to be a woman). Another play “Take away” was produced in Los Angeles one year after his death. “The play, serious but with a powerful undercurrent of humor, describes the traumatic experience of a young man whose parents are dying of cancer and emphysema, and whose lover is dying of AIDS. It’s not about dying, though, but about learning how to die.” (McCulloh, 2)
Billy De’Acutis’ panel was painted by Rilla Underwood and took 6 months to complete. The rest of the details were done by Max, Brian Frank and Linda Kozlowski a mutual friend of Billy and Ray Underwood. William “Billy” De’Acutis died May 5th, 1991 at only 34 years old.
Framing and Materials:
The quilt is framed with a thick golden cord on all four sides. The quilt is made of a thick cotton material similar in feel to canvas, which was painted on with acrylic paint, giving it texture and added thickness. There are no ink marks on this panel and all details are neat and even. The only writing on this panel is “Billy De’Acutis September 17, 1957- May 5 1991” which was typed in a thick elegant cursive.
The Name plate shows faint signs of dirt, maybe someone stepped on it accidentally? The name plate is framed with black sequins that shine purple, green and blue in different lighting. Above the name is an oval picture of a dog framed in a gold cord lighter in color than the cord framing the quilt.
A picture of Billy is also visible in the middle region of the panel, this is also framed by black sequins. Two angels appear near the bottom of the quilt, one on either side once again framed in a light gold cord, although it is duller than other cords used. Apart from the painting all additional decorations were glued onto this quilt.
The painting on this panel is detailed, neat and striking, there is no wonder it took 6 months to complete. Although the image below does it no justice, the colors used are vibrant and earthy even after 22 years. In the image there are two huge columns much like those found at a court house or cathedral, on either side of the panel. It appears the viewer is peering through the columns at a vast nature scene.
I noticed that the images in Billy De’Acutis and Ray Underwood’s panels look like two different views of the same scene. However, the colors of Billy’s panel are much softer and slightly duller than that of Rays.
Billy’s panel shows a group of mountains in the distance, closer than in Underwood’s. Also, it appears the view is of the side of the mountains. The grass is green in the foreground, with a few rocks and bushes visible. The sky is a bright turquoise, with minimal clouds and a soft yellow near the mountain giving the allusion of sunlight. Leaves from trees nearby help frame the serene view drawing your focus to the mountains.
Near the bottom of the panel the green grass turns to a sandy brown. Where there are two brown vases, each has a angel above them. In between these vases is the nameplate.
The embodiment of Mystique:
Slightly below the center of the panel is a picture of Billy De’Acutis from the shoulders up. The lighting of the photograph is on the left leaving his right side in the shadows. In the image Billy’s hair is dark black and curly, he is wearing round glasses and looks up only with his eyes at the photographer. He is wearing a small, somewhat coy smile giving him the illusion of mystery.
Billy has always been described as lively and humorous so, why did they choose this photo for his panel?
Dederian states “Yet the quilt lives on, with our Billy’s eyes peering ever so suspiciously out into the distance. Touching you like he touched us.”(Letter to the Names Project Foundation, 2) The photo is attention grabbing and gives the illusion he is looking at the viewer. If the intent was to make the quilt feel more intimate and captivating, this picture certainly achieved that.
Angels on earth:
On the panel two angels are evident near the bottom of the panel. The angels look similar to cherubs with their childlike feature and innocent faces. However, their expression is far from one of contentment and curiosity but more of one that is annoyed and irritated. The cherubs and the temple like columns displayed on this panel give the quilt a religious association.
“Angels have been depicted as messengers and protectors that serve as intermediaries between God and mankind. There are references to angels across many traditions, with interpretations that vary widely, however all share a core belief that angels are considered higher spiritual beings. “(kheopsinternational.com)
What is the significance of the angels? Does this have anything to do with his religious beliefs?
Roll The Credits:
Describing and analyzing this panel brought closure to many question I had while describing the panel of Ray Underwood. Through further investigation I learned that Billy De’Acutis, Ray Underwood and Linda Kozlowski (who starred in “Crocodile Dundee” ) went to The Juilliard School together and remained friends throughout Billy and Ray’s lifetime. Both panels were painted by Rilla Underwood (Ray’s mother) and Linda aided in both creations.
From this panel it is evident that Billy De’Acutis was a creative and unique individual who had a promising career in acting ahead of him. He did not let AIDS stop him from enjoying his life and doing what he loved and for that he is a true inspiration. The panel was beautifully created with dedication and love, all the elements went together beautifully. I wish there were more writing or images to describe and analyze but the combination of the letter and images provided a surprising amount of information on Billy De’Acutis.
Dederian, Kathleen.”Letter to the Names Project Foundation.” May. 1996.
McCulloh, T.H. “Play Is A Lesson In Life, Death.” LATimes.com. February 28, 1993.
Staff, Kheops. “Symbolic Angel Meanings.” Kheopsinternational.com. October 19, 2015.