When you meet Billy Hayes, he immediately strikes you as a good person. (If you aren’t familiar with Hayes’ entire story and only know of his imprisonment for attempting to smuggle hash out of Turkey, this might be surprising.) Of course, he’s got his demons like the rest of us, but he’s a man who’s been to hell and has seen it all. Hayes went through the kind of life-defining tribulation that either breaks and devours a person or provides them wisdom and makes them a better person. Of course, I don’t know Billy Hayes beyond our interactions for this article and through reading his books, but he’s a man who definitely strikes me as the latter. When you meet him, you are immediately aware that you are speaking to an intelligent, cultured, articulate man with a keen sense of humor.
Billy Hayes thinks and speaks quickly. When you interview him, you don’t have to ask questions. You don’t even have to talk, really. You just pull the string and let him go, and he’s off, hopping from subject to subject and thought to thought. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s wonderful to experience Billy Hayes one-on-one. It’s like having the only seat in the house as he performs his one-man show, Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes. There’s something compelling about the man that reaches beyond his imprisonment. The story of his incarceration and eventual escape has provided ample material for three (previous) autobiographical books, an Academy Award-winning film by Oliver Stone, and the documentary Midnight Escape. His story is captivating, to say the least. But I dare say Hayes himself is equally, if not somehow more engaging.
After the release of his previous books (Midnight Express, Midnight Return, and The Midnight Express Letters: From a Turkish Prison 1970-1975), one might have guessed that Hayes’ literary story had been told in full. What more could there be? As it turns out, Hayes still had plenty of stories to tell.
His latest volume, Midnight Express Epilogue: Train Keeps Rolling, tells us everything the smuggler-turned-prisoner-turned-writer-turned-actor has been up to since his last book. During that time, it turns out that Hayes was doing everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but a lot. He’s acted (and directed) in lots of theatre productions. He wrote and directed the motion picture, Cock & Bull Story. He played a heavy who got machine-gunned by Charles Bronson in the 1987 actioner, Assassination. Crazy, right? But if you think that’s crazy, just wait. None of those things holds a candle to Hayes’ bold return to Istanbul (where he remained a wanted fugitive, hated because of the embellishments in Oliver Stone’s film) to make amends with the Turkish government.
In Midnight Epilogue, the Billy Hayes train keeps rolling, and it’s a hell of a ride. At a scant 136 pages, it’s a quick, enjoyable read that covers a lot of ground. In addition to Charles Bronson, working in theatre, and directing a movie, Hayes writes about the 12 years he spent with director Sally Sussman while she shot footage of him for her documentary, Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey, as well as his relationships with his wife, Wendy, and his loving and patient parents. In short, Midnight Epilogue is the perfect conclusion to Billy Hayes’ Midnight saga.
Diabolique sat down to talk with Billy Hayes about Midnight Epilogue, his wildly colorful life, getting trash-talked by Oliver Stone, his return to Istanbul, and everything in between.
Why did you decide to self-publish Midnight Epilogue? Obviously, you didn’t have to.
Well, after Midnight Express, I waited 10 years and then did Midnight Return. It was sort of a follow-up. Then, 10 years later, my wife was making me clean out the attic. We had all these boxes of shit, and I hate doing that stuff, so I just decided to throw it all out. So, I had all these boxes of old letters that people had written me, and some that I had written back, while in jail. Then when I got home, everyone returned my letters. They had all kept them. You know, I had a lot of time to write in jail. [Laughs] After journalism school, I said, “I’m gonna get out in the world and become a writer!” I achieved my goal, but not the way I expected.
So, I wrote those letters home to people, they gave them back to me, and we took all those letters—Bill Hoffer helped me organize all this stuff and focused me—and had somebody transcribe them. Then I sat and talked with Bill Hoffer for three or four days into a tape recorder. We had all that transcribed, and it’s a humbling experience to read how you speak! Or how I speak, which is this rambling style. My agent, Julian Bach, read the first 15 pages I wrote. He said, “Billy, this is wonderful because now we know that we’ll need a professional writer to work with you.” I said, “What? No! No!” I so needed somebody to help me organize. [Julian Bach] termed my writing style “the hysterical subjective.” He said, “This would be good for Rolling Stone and maybe your stoned peers, but if you want to write a book and get it out to the public, we need to focus you down. You can write all this other stuff later.”
That was a good experience for me, to have all of this experience kind of boiled down and focused. The letters were so helpful when I read them, but then I put them up in the attic for 25 years. So, when I brought them out to the curb, Wendy, my wife, made me come out and take all of the letters back. I told this story to my friend, who is also my lawyer, and he said, “What letters?” I said, “These moldy old handwritten 40-year-old letters.” He said, “Let me read a few.” So he read a few and he said, “You need to take all these letters and transcribe them, put them down in book form, and do not change a single word.” Therein lies the rub; to read what you thought you knew about life and wrote at 20, 21, 22 in prison. It’s like, “Goddamn, I can’t believe this. Who said this stupid shit?!” [Laughs]
It was very helpful for me to start to transcribe them. What I quickly realized as I looked at these letters was, they just, emotionally… instantly took me back. I was smelling the place. I was feeling the blanket under me where I used to sit cross-legged to write. It was an amazing emotional experience. It took me back into that kid who I had kind of forgotten (because I wanted to forget him, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the emotions back then). [Without Hoffer’s guidance,] I’d still be procrastinating about writing a book. I didn’t want to revisit that. I didn’t want to write about prison. I didn’t get it. But luckily for me, life and circumstance forced me to do it. So, it was a good thing to write the original [Midnight Express], and then 30 years later, my wife has me bring these boxes down… I put all of the letters together [in The Midnight Express Letters: From a Turkish Prison 1970-1975]. That was an interesting experience to see the arc of the writing. The idiot kid who got himself busted was there in the first letters, but that started to change through the years and the tears and the wait and the time; just growing up. I joke, but I really mean it when I say, “Prison was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me.” It forced me to grow up. It forced me to take responsibility for my actions.
So, the third book, The Midnight Express Letters, was a wonderful transition to read. I loved putting them down and getting them all out. Now that we self-publish, my wife, Wendy, is my editor and publisher, which is a very interesting relationship and leads to a whole lot of deep breathing and exercises of calming myself [laughs], because she’s brutally honest. Which I need. As a writer, you want somebody who’s gonna tell you the goddamn truth! I don’t need smoke! I’ve been working in Hollywood for 30, 40 years; everybody blows smoke up your ass. I wanted the truth, so that’s been good.
That book came out, and I kind of thought I was done. But I’m always taking notes. I’m always having things happen. As you know from the book, things are happening in my life that I jot down notes on. And eventually, I kind of put them together. Then I did six or seven years of traveling the world doing the one-man show, Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes. I loved it. I’m an actor and I love performing, but… My wife, who is trained in psychology, said, “It’s a repetition compulsion. You’re compelled to repeat the traumas that you’re unconsciously trying to overcome.” That sounds about right. I did the show, but then, suddenly, Covid came, and nobody was doing theatre and nobody was going out. So, I kind of got down to putting the stuff together and organizing it [for Midnight Express Epilogue: Train Keeps Rolling].
And it became, for me, a tribute to my folks. That’s what I really wanted. I’ve had a lot of people over the years say, “What happened to your friend Max in jail?” or “What happened with this?” But a lot of them said, “God, I loved your parents!” And so did I. I was so lucky to have had the parents that I did. So I wanted to commemorate their passing, as it were. So, that was part of the arc of putting the book together. But while that was happening, these other things were coming down [like] this documentary [Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes] these guys were doing. For 12 years, they were doing that documentary! It’s like, what the fuck?! It’s hard enough to live my life, much less make a doc about it. But they did it, and eventually, it took us back to the Cannes Film Festival. I thought going back there to the place where Wendy and I had met 38 years ago was a perfect, fitting way to kind of wrap up the end of the book. I had been looking for something to end it, because there had been various places [where I could have ended it]. It’s like the documentary; Sally [Sussman] and I kept saying, “Where does this end?”
But then something else would happen. “How about raising the Turkish flag?” That happened, and at one point, felt like the perfect ending to this documentary; that whole circle of life and me going back to have this reconciliation with the Turkish people. I loved Istanbul! It was the city of my dreams. I spent a lot of weeks and weeks and weeks over three successful trips, which I don’t get credit for. All I’m known for is getting busted! [Laughs] But I loved those first three trips. I loved the city and the people. I had a Turkish girlfriend. I loved Turkey.
That was one of my biggest problems with Oliver Stone—the tone of Oliver’s movie. And I get it! I understand. All they knew was the fourth trip on. They didn’t know the first three. I had not written about the first three. I couldn’t do what I wanted. When I came home and said, “I wanna write about all of this and all these other trips,” Michael Griffith, my lawyer, said, “Wait! You want to publicly admit that you smuggled hash three times from Turkey to the United States, is that correct?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “One more question: are you out of your fucking mind?! You can’t say that! They’ll arrest you!” I said, “They don’t have any proof.” And Michael said, “They don’t need proof. You’re an escaped convict drug smuggler. The Turkish government is going to ask for your extradition, and the U.S. is either gonna say yes or no. And you want to say, publicly, ‘Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, I smuggled drugs three times!’ You can’t say that. In fact, you can’t admit it to anybody.” And as it turned out, he was correct.
My uncle, Jimmy, was a motorcycle cop in Queens. When I came home, he said to me, “You’ve got to be really careful. You are such a high-profile bust for any ambitious cop who wants to get his name in the Post.” I said, “No, no, they won’t do that.” He said, “You know what? There are people who have talked about what you are. And I’ve had to defend you, because it’s drugs.” Back then, drugs was a big thing. So, I had to be really careful not to talk about that.
Part of what they did with the first movie was that attitude against the Turks, and the way it made the whole country seem. Oliver’s words in the courtroom scene… He read my book. He knows what I said, which was, “I can’t agree with you if you’re going to sentence me to life. All I can do is forgive you.” But he wrote [in the film], “I fuck your sons and daughters! I fuck your country!” The logic of that speech, to me, was so stupid. You’re a guy who’s just been sentenced to life in this country, and you’re gonna give this public speech saying, “I fuck you all, fuck your sons, fuck your daughters, fuck your country?” That’s so stupid! And the fact is, I didn’t say that. In fact, I said the opposite. But the world heard “fuck your sons and daughters.” They didn’t hear “I forgive you.” That movie has affected my whole life. They put the Interpol warrant out when that scene came in the movie.
Your book sold a lot of copies and was a huge hit, but I think more people know you today from Stone’s film. How much does it bother you that you’re known for this character that is kind of you, but really isn’t?
I don’t know if bothered me is the right word. It’s something I have to live with. [The way you see me] depends upon what iteration of my story you know. You know something about me. Total strangers know something about me, and I have to say, “Did you read the book? Did you watch the movie? Did you watched the Locked Up Abroad TV series? Did you see my stage show?” It’s so weird. It’s okay, because I needed to be locked up in jail, but it’s weird to deal with. The fact that there are people who still say, “I’d never go to Turkey!” I’d say now, because of Erdoğan and their politics, I would have to agree. But normally, I would say, “No, no, go! You’ll love it! It’s a beautiful country. Don’t get arrested. You won’t like the prison, that I can tell you. But the image you see from [the film] Midnight Express is just not true.”
The Turks had to live with that for 20 years. I mean, when the movie came out, their tourism dropped something like 95 percent! It’s amazing. So, I was such a hated man in Turkey for killing a guard in the movie, which I didn’t do. And also for the fact that I cursed out the whole country, which I didn’t do. I forgave them. It was the only thing I could do at the time. I read a lot of books. I read Nelson Mandela. He said [paraphrased], “If you leave prison and you don’t leave the anger and bitterness behind, you’re still in prison.” It’s true. So I was trying to deal with the moment, and getting into meditation and stuff that I desperately needed. But, you know, the world doesn’t know that. Unless they’ve heard me speak or they’ve read my book, they don’t know. All they know is what Oliver had me say in the movie.
Oliver Stone’s memoir, Chasing the Light, was released in 2020. He asserted that you had intentionally kept a lot of details about your life from him, including things that were right there in the book. Would you like to talk about that?
First of all, I’ve known him forever. I loved being in the room with him for a week talking about the movie. He was insane. Creatively, he had all this stuff going on, and I like his craziness. And then he did what he did with the movie, and it was like, yeah, I kind of expected a lot of stuff [to be different]. I was lucky the film was as good as it was, since I just signed away all of my rights. Then afterwards, we would meet at a party here and there. But there were some things going on, and I let it be.
Then somebody called me up and said, “Have you read Oliver Stone’s new book?” I said, “Not yet, but I’m looking forward to it.” They said, “Uh…” [Laughs] So I read it, and it’s like, first off, why would he say this shit? He didn’t need to do all that. And then, why would he put in stuff that is so easily refuted? It was in my book! When he said, “And this, and this, and this…” Like, didn’t you read my book? You wrote the screenplay! So, that, to me, was just unneeded. I was gonna forget it, but the last thing he said was, “Billy Hayes, how do you live with yourself every day?” That, to me, was like, okay, fine, you asshole.
So, I wrote him a very nice letter [in Variety, August 28, 2020], which I felt like I pulled back in a lot of ways. I didn’t want to make a whole thing happen. But I needed to deal with that. And a lot of people responded to that—a lot of industry people wrote to me and said, “Good. That asshole!” John Densmor [drummer for The Doors] produced a play that I directed a couple of years back. He said the same thing, “I’ve had my life up there on the screen, with Oliver doing his thing on it, too.” So, I was happy to at least address what he said in the book to the industry people. I don’t know about anybody else. But, you know what? I can’t worry about what people think about my life. I really didn’t give a shit much when I was younger, and I really don’t give a shit when I’m older! But there are things that I want to deal with, and that was one of them. I was like, “You know what? I can’t let that stand. If he’d just said, “Billy Hayes was a drug-smuggling asshole,” it’s like, “How can I refute that? [Laughs] He’s right.” But this was nasty what he wrote in his book. He went out of his way to do this.
You returned to Turkey in 2007 to make amends. That had to be terrifying knowing they could arrest you and lock you up for the rest of your life if they wanted to. And, of course, there was also the fear that some random Turk might just walk up and stab you. Why was it so important for you to go back and make those amends?
I’d always wanted to go back, from the moment I heard my character in the film cursing out Turkey, and then seeing the impact the movie had on the Turkish people. I used to give lectures at colleges. I did something like 103 college lectures. It was “The Midnight Express Experience: From Turkey to Hollywood and Beyond.” I loved doing that, and college students are the audience who needs to hear my story. At the beginning of every lecture, everyone would clap, and I would put my hands up and say, “If you are this stupid, look what can happen to you.” And I’d see a couple of these kids shaking their heads. I was like, “You probably have a joint in your pocket right now.” The kid smiles and such. I said, “We’re in Colorado. It’s okay. If you cross the border into Utah, it’s two years of your life. So you’d best be aware of that kind of stuff.” I love talking about it and bringing it in.
I lost my point. What were we talking about?
Going back to Turkey.
Ah, yes. I wanted to go back. The Turkish people, before I got busted… I loved Istanbul. I loved the Golata Bridge. I love this stuff. Just the energy of Turkey, I liked. So for me to go back and have a chance to kind of balance all this, and to tell my real story… Maybe, again, it’s that repetition compulsion. I needed to do this. For myself, I needed to get back there. For Sally [Sussman] and [producer] Tony Morina, that was the key of the documentary that allowed them to even start it and then put all of the work into it and get the money for doing it. Getting me back there was the dramatic payoff, obviously, in the doc. And then my request was turned down. For years and years, it came and went. When I finally gave up, that’s when, suddenly, things came around. These Turkish policemen had seen me on YouTube saying, “I want to go back to Turkey.” And suddenly, it was happening.
I knew the Turks wanted what I wanted. They didn’t want any more bad Billy Hayes publicity. What these guys told me was, “We want good publicity from Billy Hayes walking the streets free and not having someone shoot him in the head.” I wasn’t too worried about official flim-flam where they would arrest me for some reason. If Erdoğan were in, I would have been. But he wasn’t there then, at least not the way he is now. But [I had more fear of] some madman who had his business— Some travel agent who had his business go under and had his family fall apart. Because again, the economics after Midnight Express came out were devastating for Turkey. I’d hear little stories about people who had bad things come about because of Midnight Express. To this day, I think Turks are hated because of the movie. It’s not all me. It was the Ottoman Empire. They were brutal and held sway for 5 or 600 years over every country around them. So there’s a lingering resentment towards Turkey, but the movie pinpointed it right there. It was very difficult for them.
I was happy to go back. I wanted to somehow balance this all out again. I wanted to see the places that were still in my memory. So, 32 years after leaving, I ended up back in Istanbul, and back in the places I had been before. Being down on the street and looking up and seeing that little window up in the prison where I used to sit and look out on the street. That was such a bizarre thing to be able to look back on that. And then, of course, going back to Bakırköy. I’ve been in some strange places in my life, but nothing has ever come close to Bakırköy Mental Hospital. When I went back there, it had been closed and locked for 15 years. The structure itself had been around since, I think, the 1700s or earlier. So it had this aged thing about it. To be downstairs in the basement of this place, walking the wheel again… There were a couple of people with cameras, and the place was empty except for us. But it was such a bizarre transition to go back to that place. Again, I’ve never been anywhere near as strange as being in that environment for those couple of weeks. And now, to come back and have these guys filming it… If you wrote the shit, nobody would believe it! [Laughs] But I wrote it anyway.
You talk a lot in the book about caring for your sick father who had dementia at the end of his life. You wrote that at one point, he was looking at your photograph on your book, and he said something like, “I hated you.” How did that make you feel? Did you feel like he was still holding onto some anger and resentment?
I was actually happy to hear it. I mean, it stung. It was like a little barb. But he was just sitting in the chair, and he was sort of gone because he’d been deteriorating for a while. But he was holding the book, and it had that picture of me on the back cover of the hardcover. He was kind of just looking at it for a while. He just kind of spoke the truth, which was how much he hated me. He said, “God, I hated you.” I mean, what I put him through? What I put my mom and my family through? I deserved to have him say that. It was like, “Yeah, you should. But you didn’t give up. You didn’t abandon me.” Quite the opposite; he was a rock. And for somebody in jail, to have somebody on the outside you can trust, that means everything. For guys on the inside who really have nobody, it’s a hard thing.
He was such a rock. And then having him slide away as it were… As my mom said, “Your father’s been gone for a while.” It had been quite a few years, and the weight of it was all on her. I’ve had a variety of friends who’ve read the book tell me their similar stories. Because we all do go through it with our parents. So I wanted to honor my parents by writing about them and telling who they were.
You really are the epitome of a person who takes a negative thing and turns it into a positive thing. You obviously had talent, but it seems like you’ve been able to use your time in prison to your advantage. You’ve published a handful of books, you’re the basis for two different documentaries, so to speak. There’s so much stuff. The Stone film. Theatre. I find that really interesting.
Interesting is the word I use, because it’s the only adjective that covers the whole length and breadth of my experience. It was a very interesting experience, and it continues. You know, most guys who get out of jail don’t want to talk about it. It’s the opposite; they try to keep it hidden. I didn’t have that option. When I got out, everybody knew about it, and the press was there. I guess I’d always wanted fame or whatever that means, but I always wanted recognition for my work; for my writing. I had always wanted to be a writer. That whole Jack London thing. I traveled around the world, thinking I was gonna write all these books like Call of the Wild and such. I eventually got my books published, but it wasn’t the way I expected it to be. And once it happened, it was overwhelming. The moment I stepped off the plane, there were people asking questions. And it never stopped. It still hasn’t stopped! I’m still doing it.
I say I wanted to forget jail and get away from it, but the truth is, I don’t think I wanted to forget it, because I don’t think emotionally… If I had not been forced to come home on a Friday and then, on Monday, talking to literary agents and writing the book… It would not have been the therapy I so desperately needed. Forcing it out of me. After a few days, I wanted to stop. I wanted to quit. Julian Bach said, “You need someone to organize and guide you.” I said, “No, I don’t.” But I so did. So I worked with Bill Hoffer on that. And I love Bill Hoffer. He’s very much like my wife—just kind of quiet and steady and he never stopped pushing. Never gave up. He forced me to keep writing. I wanted to forget this. After I started putting stuff down, it was just like, “Fuck! I can’t do this!” And he would keep me going. We spent three days talking into the tape recorder. Then we listened to me rambling. Then we chopped things up and organized it. And we knew “the book starts here” and “the book stops here.” Now, all we had to do was fill in the middle.
“Applause from the audience is nice, but when you hear people say that you touched them in a way that affected their lives, that’s what I need. That’s what I want. I just want to change the world in my own little ways.”
Hoffer kept me working. I’d write something and show it to him and he’d say, “You’re writing this, but…” Then he’d go back and look my letters and say, “In this letter, on this date, you said this and this and this. But now, in your writing, you say that and that and that. I need the kid who wrote these letters to be in these chapters. I don’t need the guy who’s out and famous and running around on TV and getting laid. That’s not the guy who needs to write this book.” I was like, “That’s the guy I am now. I don’t wanna go back there to that other guy. I don’t wanna deal with that.” Of course, I did want to do that. I needed to deal with it. Writing the book forced me to deal with it. And that was such a good thing, therapeutically. Because everybody I met when I first came out would say, “You should consider therapy. You need therapy.” And I said, “No, I’m good. I’m out.” But I so needed it.
Writing the book became the initial therapy that got me, literally, from the second day I was home, working, working. What am I doing? I’m writing this book. Whatever else I do, I’m writing this book. I’m getting it done. I did the whole book— We went back and forth, back and forth. E.P. Dutton had some kind of clause in the contract that if we turned in a final book that they accepted within something like four months or some ridiculous period, we would get X amount more on the paperback. So Hoffer said to me, “Let’s get going,” every fucking day. We wrote and wrote and wrote, nonstop. The Busy Bee Book Factory, we called it. He was in Maryland, and I was in New York. He’d come up on the train and we’d work a while. I’d come back, and then I’d bring him more pages and stay down there. So, we finally got it done. We got it done in time to get that—I think it was an extra 12 percent or something on the paperback sales, which turned out to be quite a bit.
The paperback did really good, because of the movie. That saved me. I loved that. And it’s continued. I mean, I’m still making money off all the books. Midnight Express, it’s 40 years later, and it’s still selling! Not like it did way back then. But it just became such an integral part of me. I did thousands—literally thousands—of interviews, talks, and one thing or another. I’m still doing it. I’m still talking about it. It’s still something I need to do and is good for me.
When I did the stage show, I’d been trying to get away from this for a while. Then one thing led to another about doing a stage show, and I didn’t want to. I said, “People are sick to death of this Billy Hayes Midnight Express! How can they stand this anymore?” I discovered that people are still interested, for a variety of reasons. But what I really learned doing theatre… Afterwards, I do a Q&A every night. So you hear things about what they got, what they didn’t get, what they’re interested in. I discovered that everyone can relate to my show, and to my story, actually, because everybody’s been there. Everybody’s been down in some deep hole in their life. Maybe not quite as dramatic as my story, but everybody’s been there, struggling to get out. So, when I get out, they get out, in terms of a theatrical release for an audience. Somebody said, “Your story inspires us. We were down and out, and then we thought, Billy Hayes got out, so I can get out!” When I hear that stuff, ooh, that’s good! I needed that. Applause from the audience is nice, but when you hear people say that you touched them in a way that affected their lives, that’s what I need. That’s what I want. I just want to change the world in my own little ways.
This isn’t the same thing at all, but bear with me. Today was the seventh anniversary of my waking up from a coma. Later on, I had a heart transplant. People always say, “You were so brave.” Now, I obviously know it was me, but it seems surreal now, like that couldn’t possibly have happened to me. It seems very distant, and I think, how the fuck did I get through that? Do you experience any of that? Do your experiences seem distant and surreal, almost like you dreamed them?
Totally, and every day! I get reminded of it, depending on what’s happening or where I’m at, but that was a whole other guy; a whole other lifetime. That’s 50 years ago. And yet, for me, it’s so immediate. And when I start talking about it, emotionally, I’m right there.
I used to direct a lot of theatre. And this one friend of mine said, “Why don’t you do your own story?” I said, “No, I’m tired. I don’t wanna do that shit.” He said, “People get you down here to a party, and they get you stoned, and you tell these stories anyway. Why not put it on stage? You’re an actor! This is your piece. You’re doing other people’s theatre, why not do your own?” Then I started to think about it. I started to scribble some stuff down, and suddenly, I was totally overwhelmed by it. It took a couple of years of various iterations of this and that. Then I met Barbara Ligeti, my producer, who really knew how to focus me and my story. She had directed and produced a whole bunch of shit. When I started to really listen to her, it came together. And once we actually put it up, the response that we got to the theatrical piece was amazing.
And I’m still doing it. We were going to be doing a show here in Vegas. I mean, this is the place to do it; I live here now, and there are a lot of smaller theaters here. How many times can you go see Cirque du Soliel? A hundred if you’ve got the money, I guess, but you’ve got to do other stuff. There are a lot of smaller theaters if you can get in the list, as it were. People come to town and they read and say, “What else besides the big shows might we see theatrically?” So, I could be doing that. We had a couple of in’s on that, and I actually did a one-night one-off thing here to kind of put it out and get established in Vegas. Then the Las Vegas Revue-Journal was doing a magazine, and they wanted to do “the new Vegas.” I ended up being on the cover of the first issue of the new magazine, sitting on top of some rocks up in Redwood, cross-legged, totally blissed-out in the sunshine. Great picture. Then this guy did a great article on me. So, we wanna put up my show. We were like, what a perfect introduction to Vegas to put my show up! So, they did it, and I think they landed something like 375,000 subscribers for the new magazine. So, the first issue with my picture and my story landed on their doorstep on a Monday morning. Then Tuesday, Vegas shut down for Covid! So that show went out the window. But it’s still there. We still have people in London who want to bring us back. We’re trying to put something together to keep doing it. Now, of course, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve done it, and I realize how much I miss it. It’s a chance for me to be all I am, and to give back whatever I have to offer as an actor. It’s the culmination of my work. Acting has been great for me, emotionally and spiritually. So, we’ll see.
You’ve done a lot of different things and you’ve accomplished a lot since your imprisonment. The book talks a lot about your return to Turkey, but a lot of it seems to be saying, “I’m Billy Hayes, and there’s a lot more to me than just my Midnight Express experiences!” Do you think that’s accurate? And do you get tired of being known just for the one thing?
Yes to both of those questions! [Laughs] It’s not so much, “Don’t you know I do other things?” It’s more like, “Do you know I do other things?” Of course, I’m not begrudging the fact that everybody knows me because of Midnight Express. Because of the book; because of the movie; because of all the publicity. That’s great. That’s terrific. But guys, do you know I’ve also acted and directed? I’ve been in movies with Charlie Bronson!
I think that’s really cool, by the way. I’m a big Bronson fan.
I am too. I actually got to go up to his house with him and Jill [Ireland] and his sons, and got to meet him a bit more. I love that stuff. It’s fuckin’ Charles Bronson machine gunning me to death!
I’ve done a lot of things like that. I’ve directed a whole bunch of theatre. I’ve acted in a whole bunch of things. But most people don’t know anything except Midnight Express. It is what it is. In my books, I like to talk about the other things I’ve done. So if people have a chance to read my books, they’ll know. So, again, “What iteration of my life do you know?” I’ll literally ask people if they’ve read the book, or if they’ve read this or that. Which is fine [if they haven’t], because then I’ll know how to speak and how to deal with them. I’ll know what they know.
With these four books under your belt, you’ve proven yourself to be a talented writer. So I wondered if there’s any chance we’ll ever see a Billy Hayes-penned non-Midnight Express-themed book?
Well, I’ve done some screenplays. I’ve got a screenplay called Kuai that I just love. I sent it out and got some initial response on it, and then, of course, it didn’t go anywhere. And I’ve written some other things that didn’t get finished. So, I guess we’ll see.
What’s next for Billy Hayes?
I try to allow things to come to me rather than pursuing them too rapidly, which is something I learned from my wife. I’m really needing a few things to come into play now. We’ve been working for years now on a six-part TV series telling the real story. You know, all three first trips and everything in-between, and not just the Midnight Express thing from Oliver Stone’s brain. I’ve wanted to put that together. It’s been happening for years, on and off. When it fulfills, that will be great. We’ll see.