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Billy Reed: Connection to family makes admiration for George Clooney all the more special

George Clooney may well be my favorite actor. He picks good roles and plays them well. But there’s also the fact that I have a connection with his family.

In the fall of 1958, when I was beginning my sophomore year at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, a local TV station, WLEX-TV, decided to start a Saturday morning TV show modeled after American Bandstand, the wildly popular network TV show based in Philadelphia.

The show’s host was a handsome young fellow named Dick Clark. He would play some of the popular songs of the day for the teenagers who came to the studio to dance.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

Between songs, he would interview them about their schools, friends, and tastes. Some of the regulars became national celebrities to the millions of viewers.

To be our local Dick Clark, the station hired Nick Clooney, who was best known as the younger brother of singer Rosemary Clooney.

Her hits from the late 1940s and early ‘50s included “Come On-a my House,” “Hey, There,” and “Tenderly.’ She also starred with Bing Crosby in the movie, “White Christmas.”

Nick was 24 when he began working in Lexington. I won’t say I was a regular on his Saturday morning show, but we did become friends due mainly to my young reporter’s curiosity.

On May 6, 1961, the month I graduated from high school, Nick and his wife Nina had a son whom they named George. He was born in Lexington.

I lost contact with Nick after high school, but I followed his career through various news outlets. He and Nina bought a big house in Augusta overlooking the Ohio River, and one day in the mid-1970s, I drove up there to interview them for one of my general columns in The Courier-Journal.

At the time, George would have been around 14 or so, but I can’t remember if I saw him that day. He graduated from Augusta High in 1979 and attended both Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati, graduating from neither.

He did a lot of menial jobs – selling women’s shoes, construction, cutting tobacco – before making his screen debut in 1978 as an extra in the TV mini-series Centennial, which was filmed partly in Augusta.

I lost track of him until he gained prominence as a regular on the NBC medical drama ER from 1994 through ’99. Then came the movies, one hit after another, until he became one of America’s most popular actors. His co-stars included Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez and Michelle Pfeiffer.

George Clooney was a 2021 honoree of a Freedom Conductor Award by the National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center in Cincinnati. His wife, Amal, was also honored.

Everything George does is good, so it’s hard to pick out a favorite. But I did love, “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” He was one of the Soggy Bottom Boys. The movie has some great lines in it.

George is bigger than his dad, who always was a trim little guy, but I can sure see Nick in George’s face. In middle school, George developed a case of Bell’s Palsy, a medical condition that partly paralyzes the face. It went away in nine months.

As George once told interviewer Larry King, “It’s probably a great thing it happened to me because it forced me into a series of making fun of myself. And I think that’s an important part of being famous. The practical jokes have to be aimed at you.”

In April, 2006, George and Nick spent 10 days in Chad and Sudan to make the TV special, “A Journey to Darfur,” reflecting the plight of Darfur’s refugees and calling for action.

Nick and Nina are still living in Augusta. I have no idea if they would remember me, but maybe somebody will show them this column and I’ll hear from them.

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  1. Billy: My God it was good to receive this — and see / admire your ‘writing skill’ again. Stay in touch. We’ve got some stuff to talk about.

  2. Willie says:

    Can someone, maybe even Bill himself, fact check and look over this before it goes online. It’s the “Soggy Bottom Boys” in the movie and the documentary is “A Journey to Darfur” not Dayfur.

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