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Bill 'the Fox' Foster; Master of Bawdy Songs and Guzzling Beer

Obituaries

May 20, 2000|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill "the Fox" Foster, a regular on Comedy Central's "The Man Show" and a well-known chugger of beer and singer of bawdy songs, has died.

Foster was 68 when he died of prostate cancer May 10 at his home in Santa Monica.

A character in barrooms and fraternity houses around Southern California, Foster ran the Fox Inn, a popular Santa Monica tavern, from 1961 until it closed in 1989.

He was a master performer of what he called "songs your mother wouldn't sing (maybe)," and he held forth nightly at the Fox Inn, leading patrons in song and facing all challengers in beer chugging contests. At this pastime, which he sometimes performed while standing on his head, he was considered a champion.

Foster, who was 5 feet 9 and weighed 210 pounds, was a man of quick wrists and a commodious throat.

"I used to be able to chug a 40-ounce pitcher of beer--that's close to five mugs--in about 3.5 seconds," Foster said. "But it pushed me up to 240, way over my drinking weight.

"And tipping a pitcher in 3.5 is too fast for most people. They don't believe it. They thought they didn't see me do it. So they'd say: 'Hey, would you do that again?' So I'd do it. But after two pitchers, it's all over. All over the floor, all over my clothes. . . ."

Born in Detroit, Foster began his career as an entertainer working in local bars playing what he later called "whorehouse piano" and singing funny songs.

In 1958, he moved to Southern California and lived in a fraternity house at UCLA. He attended Santa Monica College, amassing a number of credits but not a diploma because he was focused on his true callings: having fun and entertaining.

He opened the Fox Inn in 1961 and built a large following through his appearances there and at colleges around the country, including USC, Stanford, Michigan, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, the University of Illinois and San Diego State. They generally were unsanctioned affairs, often at the instigation of a fraternity house. He began his act by downing a few pints or pitchers with astonishing speed and moved on to his real love: leading a songfest of bawdy ballads.

The exposure led him to other venues--reportedly including the Bel-Air Country Club--and then to television, where he made guest appearances on shows such as "Taxi," "The Mike Douglas Show" and "The Jeffersons."

Overseas, he appeared at clubs in Scotland, Australia, Japan and Germany.

As his fame increased, so did the number of challengers to his chug-a-lug crown. But as a professional, Foster knew the key was preparation.

"Always eat before [you] drink, a real good meal, prime rib or steak and potatoes or a couple of Big Macs," he would advise up-and-coming competitors.

"You can't get drunk. You've gotta pace yourself. . . . If you get to the point of falling on your butt, fatigue has set in, timing's out the window, concentration is shot and you'd best settle for being driven home."

After the Fox Inn closed, Foster appeared at several other saloons around Southern California.

His role on "The Man Show" came about from an appearance at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas about 13 years ago that was attended by Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the show.

Foster's survivors include his two children, Shari Foster of Santa Monica and Robert Foster of Marina del Rey, and his companion of 24 years, Nancy Grade.

A memorial service and a public celebration of his life are planned for June 17 at "the Shack" in Santa Monica.

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