Pubdate: Wed, 21 Apr 2004
Source: Chillicothe Gazette (OH)
Copyright: 2004 Chillicothe Gazette
Author: Claire Cahoon


He's got a slicked-back pompadour and a black, leather jacket -- and no, 
he's not trying to look like Elvis.

"Elvis died doing drugs," Bill Russ, a.k.a. "Retro Bill," said Tuesday to 
an auditorium full of Smith Middle School and Bishop Flaget School sixth-, 
seventh- and eighth-graders. "I don't want to be like him."

"Retro Bill" is one part D.A.R.E. -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- 
advocate, one part motivational speaker, and one part 1950s throw-back. A 
character from Russ' imagination, Retro Bill deals with the tough issues 
students face, from drug abuse to peer pressure, with goofy humor and some 
serious moments.

"There are other boys and girls you will know who will come along and say 
you're not good enough," Russ said while asking students what they wanted 
to be. "I'm here to tell you that you can be what you want to be, but you 
have to work for it."

Russ grew up poor in Illinois and said he decided as a kid he was going to 
be a Hollywood success. After years of acting, directing, writing and 
producing motivational material in California, he considers himself just 
that. His secret? Russ has a positive attitude, one he cultivated during a 
childhood of being bullied and laughed at.

"I got teased as a kid," he said. "I had holes in my shoes. As a 
12-year-old, I knew I wanted to grow up and make a positive impact. As a 
high school student, I started giving motivational speeches across Illinois 
about drinking and driving after prom."

Russ went on to make anti-drunken driving films, produce music videos and 
work with D.A.R.E. Now he travels the country talking to students about 
making good choices.

"What comes around goes around," Russ said.

And Ross County's D.A.R.E. officers love him.

"He talks to (the kids) about their self-esteem and setting goals," said 
Ross County sheriff's deputy Richard Groves. "He talks exactly about the 
same things we do, but in a crazier way, a Hollywood style. The kids have 
been going crazy so far."

Russ performs his message for elementary, middle and high school children 
nationwide. Bishop Flaget Principal Ken Kessler said Russ' presentation for 
the elementary students Monday was inspiring.

"He was definitely one of the better, if not the best, person we've had 
this year," Kessler said. "Even from kindergarten to sixth-grade, obviously 
there's a wide range of interest, but he kept everybody enthused and engaged."

Russ said working with older students is a challenge, but one he is up to.

"You've got to dip your toe in the water," Russ said. "What is their level 
of innocence or pessimism? It's kind of like a roller coaster ride.

"We're all human beings and we're all in this experience together." 
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart