Tuesday, January 17, 2012



Date of Birth: 1 December 1957, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA

Date of Death: 28 December 1987, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA (suicide by drug overdose)

Birth Name: Walter Patrick Bissell

Nickname: Wally, Tarzan (named by the ballerinas in the company because of his amazing size and strength)

Height: 6' 2" (1.88 m)

Spouse: Jolinda Menendez (1982 - 1983)

Signature trademark: Big cowboy hats, cowboys boots and motorcycles, His "tough cowboy" look

Danced in the corps with the New York City Ballet until getting an offer as principal with the American Ballet Theatre.

Was called by ballet legend and superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov: "One of the brightest lights in the entire ballet world."

Was romantically linked to ABT soloist Amy Rose at the time of his death.

He and his brother were victims of very severe emotional child abuse.

He first got into ballet when his sister would bring him to her dance classes and ask him to be her dance partner.

He also had a twin brother (fraternal, not identical).

His mother wrote a magazine article about the untimely (but inevitable) death of her son called "A Mother's Plea."

His interest in ballet began with his oldest sister, Susan. A tall girl, she recruited her lanky 10-year-old brother to be her dance-class partner. He was a natural - so much so that at 14 he left home to study at the National Academy of Dance in Champaign, Illinois, and later at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Danced with Martine van Hamel, Cynthia Gregory, Gelsey Kirkland, Susan Jaffe, Leslie Browne, and Alessandra Ferri, Natalia Makarova, Karen Kain, and Galina Samsova and others.

Was a student of the School of American Ballet, the most prestigious academy in the United States, and moved into the top ranks of American Ballet Theatre.

Was thrown into the role of principal very early because of the lack of leading men in the American Ballet Theatre. Many thought he seemed "green and unfinished" early on in his career, although he quickly picked up the pace and soon became in great demand as a partner, particularly for the very tall women in ABT, whom were in dire need of large partners.

His role as the Solor in "Kingdom of the Shades" from La Bayadère with the American Ballet Theatre in Los Angeles marked his debut as principal dancer with the ABT, with rising ABT ballerina Jolina Menendez. They went on to marry.

During his stint with the ABT, at his peak, his salary was almost $250,000 a year, including guest appearance fees.

He spent a great deal of time at the Betty Ford center due to his drug addiction and numerous injuries (the drugs were burning him out at both ends).

With salary dancing with the ABT and guest appearance fees combined, he made almost a quarter of a million dollars a year.

While dancing with ABT, he was promoted to principal dancer at the tender age of 21, due mostly to the shortage of men in the company.

Personal Quotes:

"Looking back on it all, I think I've been incredibly lucky. I mean, it could have gone the other way for me. If I wasn't a dancer--I would be a teenage hoodlum!"

"To work with the ABT is the greatest joy."

"It's not a question of dying, but of leaving behind the people you love."

"Philadelphia was a very strange incident, because I was very, very successful. 'Why did I do it? I don't know. It's something I'm working on with a doctor to find out why I punish myself after having successful performances. . . . That's a problem with the drugs. I do good performances, and then I punish myself with the drugs. I try to destroy myself. It's a weird kind of cycle. You don't know why the brain does the things that it does."

"Well, it's all very new to me. I'm still a young dancer and I feel I have a long way to go. I've got a lot to learn about dancing, so I want people to just stick with me and allow me to grow. I want to have a long and lasting career in which I can develop as an artist. I really want to dance well. I don't want to go out there and dance spectacles - do a few tricks, be flamboyant and get a few people to like me. I want to fulfill myself and develop as an artist. To be a star... well, some people think, 'Boy, wouldn't that be great!' But I don't feel that way about it. But what I'm really interested in is to grow and develop as an artist."