Playing it cool

Posted: Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Kids' TV celebrity Retro Bill took the Kenai Peninsula by storm last week, bringing his message of drug awareness and self-esteem to elementary school students in Seward, Kenai, Soldotna, Kasilof and Homer.

In an energy-charged, fast-paced show that grabbed the attention of his young audiences, Retro Bill told youngsters, "If you just keep working hard and believe in yourself, your dreams can come true in America."

Popular on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel as well as Public Broadcasting TV, Retro Bill wears an Elvis Presley-style hairdo and dresses in the fashion of the 1950s as he tells children not to start smoking or drinking alcohol and not to be lured into drug abuse, whether with prescription or illegal drugs.

Surprisingly, about one-third of the 225 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students from Soldotna and Kalifornsky Beach Elementary schools Thursday said they knew who Elvis Presley was, when asked by Retro Bill.

"Do you know he was the King of Rock and Roll? Do you know he died from abusing prescription drugs? Do you know drugs brought down a king?" he asked the children.

A spokesperson for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, Retro Bill said DARE instructions "give kids power. DARE gives them knowledge and knowledge empowers them," he said.


Coiffed in an Elvis Presley hairdo of the 1950s, Retro Bill visited elementary schools in Seward, Kenai, Soldotna, Kasilof and Homer last week entertaining and informing pupils about drug awareness and self esteem. The Hollywood star of Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel told the students he heard it was cold in Alaska so he wore a shirt with flames to keep him warm.

Photo by Phil Hermanek

Sponsored by the Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska National Guard Drug Reduction Unit, Retro Bill was visiting schools throughout the state over a three-week period.

Saying he is a personal friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Retro Bill told the Soldotna students the Terminator's father never told him he loved him.

"In fact, his father told him he hated him, and Arnold's brother bullied him.

"I asked him if he ever took that kind of treatment to school with him and picked on other kids. He said, 'No. Why should I? They never hurt me. Two wrongs never make a right.' ... Cool," Retro Bill said.

Using props ranging from little yellow rubber ducks to a pitcher filled with beer, alcohol, cigarettes and snuff, Retro Bill pitched messages to the school children, using the word "cool" to end just about every sentence.

Once the children got over the giggles at his sometimes silly antics, they tuned in to his message and kept their attention on him in a fixed gaze, even repeating his "cool" exclamation at times.

Retro Bill told the audience he made a lot of money writing, directing and producing in Hollywood.

"I learned those things in school," he said.

"I learned them from my teachers, not from the kids who were goofing off in school. They'll get you nowhere."

Retro Bill, who in reality is Bill Russ, is originally from Aurora, Ill. He said he gets a great feeling knowing he is giving self-esteem to children and making them feel good about themselves.

"In my show, sometimes I have them hold up their hand in front of their face and look at it.

"I tell them their hand and each of their fingers is unique.

"It's not like anyone else's hand, just like they are not like anyone else. They're all individuals and they're all important.

"After the show, I'll see them walking out, looking at their hands.

"That's cool."

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