As with everyone else who encounters Billy the Human Billboard for the first time, the thoughts that went through my head were "[vulgar expletive], what is he thinking?" followed by a quick feeling that there's no way this could be for real, followed by the realization that it had to be real. It's just too weird not to be.
Imagine my surprise, only a few days ago, when I found an e-mail in my in-box from him. He was reaching out to me to see if, as a fan of tattoos, I'd be interested in buying space on his body myself. And while I wasn't really in the market to buy an ad on Billy the Billboard, I did take that opportunity to speak with him about his unique method of paying the bills.
"I had seen champion boxer Bernard Hopkins enter the ring with a temporary tattoo ad for GoldenPalace.com and thought, 'If he could do that, then maybe I could do the real thing,'" Billy told me. "Since I wasn't a champion boxer like he was, I would have to make it a real tattoo ad."
He reached out to the online casino, which was already famous for publicity stunts involving tattoos -- most notably when it paid Kari Smith $10,000 to tattoo its name on her forehead.
Since that time, Billy has collected 26 more tattoos from corporate sponsors, including Liberty Tax Service, Host Gator, Grown Up Geek, Cam4 (see video of this tattoo) and a slew of adult sites.
He hopes to go for a Guinness world record for the most corporate logos tattooed on his body. He's been featured in various print media ranging from Bizarre magazine to the San Diego Tribune. He's even got his own Facebook fan page, which, from all appearances, wasn't created by him. He keeps a blog that hasn't received many updates lately but lists his fees for placement of potential buyers' logos on his body ($3,000 for a 6-inch by 1-inch chest tattoo, $20,000 for a 6-by-1-inch forehead tattoo).
Billy's also an advocate for the cause of organ donation. In fact, he cites it as the reason he fights.
"I had always been into volunteering and blood donation. ... But wanted to do more."
"I got into Toughman boxing when I was 21 years old," he said. "Growing up very poor, I would get made fun of a lot and picked on for wearing holes in my clothes and wearing the same clothes over and over, so my dad took me to the boxing gym so I could learn to protect myself."
Even though he has no official record and can't be found on fighting scorecard sites like Sherdog, he cites a record of 18-0 in Toughman boxing. He says he plans to move to mixed martial arts soon, fighting in the Alaska Fighting Championship.
When I asked how he feels about people who think he's strange, he replied, "I understand that people are going to judge me, and most people will think I am crazy or say other negative things about me. I have learned to not care what people think, because people are going to think whatever they want. I just try to do the best I can do with what I know and with what I have."
Well said, Billy.