Funny thing about Bill Bonds: He was hilarious

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Bill Bonds took the news seriously. Himself, not so much.

There was an ego beneath those toupees, you betcha — a size XXL, big enough for him, the noon anchor and the weekend weather guy. But it came packaged with a sense of humor, and there was no one more willing to laugh at Bonds than Bonds himself.

The last of the superstar local newcasters died Saturday at 82. His visitation runs from 1-8 p.m. today, with the funeral Friday, and if both events aren't peppered with laughter, we'll all be missing the story.

He had an odd left index finger, for instance, curled into a hook after elbow surgery around the turn of the millennium.

"It's only a problem with the little things," he told me. "Tying shoes. Buttoning buttons. Putting your hair on in the morning."

Maybe he was just trying to beat people to the punch line. Maybe he was more relaxed after he left the air and his legacy was already carved in YouTube clips.

I talked to him more after WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) cashiered him in 1995 than before, and I'm told he was pricklier as the news god than he was as the news god emeritus.

But what I most connect him with is laughter, and even the tales that are supposed to be notorious came with a memorable line.

Yes, he so vexed Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch that Hatch huffily excused himself from an interview.

But before Hatch vanished into the cloud of grumpiness from which he had emerged, Bonds asked him, "What are you going to do if you find out six months from now that Clarence Thomas, who you've just about made into a saint, is a porno freak?"

Pure comedy gold — and nobody but Bonds would have the urge, the nerve or the timing to deliver it.

Bonds' bond with folks

Sometimes Bonds' life seemed like an endless piece of performance art. He'd mock himself for being boastful, then go back to boasting, knowing that he was everything he cracked himself up to be: witty, wealthy, well-informed.

At Channel 7, he was both revered and feared. God and a good agent help the colleague who made a toupee joke.

But when the fashion writer at my last newspaper wrote a long story about Bonds' wardrobe, Bonds said he leaned toward blues and pastels because they photographed well with his complexion — "and whichever color hair I'm wearing that day."

One year we were paired in a charity golf outing in Dearborn. He was courtly with the younger women who approached him and just shy of scandalous with the older ones, and they all loved it.

Having done not much useful on the course for 17 holes, he spotted a gathering of 150 spectators around the 18th green. "Watch this," he said, and he lofted a 7-wood to within 5 feet of the cup.

As the gallery cheered, Bonds turned and said, "I didn't want to spoil you." Then he strutted up the fairway as though he'd been hitting shots like that all day.

About the Civil War...

The day Stroh's announced it was closing its brewery in Detroit, Bonds opened his newscast with a three-word sentence:

"Make mine Bud."

He always tried to speak for the people who didn't make seven-figure salaries, and they always felt free to speak to him. Strangers would bring up the Budweiser line, or the time WXYZ aired the U.S. vs. Soviet Union Olympic hockey game on tape delay and he gave away the ending during a news break.

"It does demonstrate the inevitability of replaying the past," he said, "when you encounter a legend in the present tense."

Now he's a legend in the past tense, and I'm remembering why I so enjoyed him.

"I grew up watching you," gushed a radio station executive a few years ago.

The executive was pushing a talk show, courting Bonds and former anchor Rich Fisher with big dreams and empty promises. But flattery only goes so far when the subject takes it for granted: of course the executive watched him.

"Did you like the Civil War," Bonds asked, "the way I covered that?"

He would've had hair then. And he still would've been funny.


Signing off

Bill Bonds' visitation is 1-8 p.m. today at Lynch & Sons Funeral Home, 1368 N. Crooks, Clawson, with a sharing of memories at 7:30 p.m. A funeral mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Holy Name Catholic Church, 630 Harmon, Birmingham.