Advertisement

Billy Carter, the carefree 'good old boy' brother of...

PLAINS, Ga. -- Billy Carter, the carefree 'good old boy' brother of Jimmy Carter who sometimes was a political embarrassment to the president, died Sunday at his home following a battle with cancer of the pancreas. He was 51.

'He was very courageous in his last year of life,' the former president said Sunday morning. 'He died with his family at his bedside.'

Advertisement

Billy Carter, whose last request was to be sent home from an Atlanta hospital so he could be with his family, died in his sleep at about 7 a.m., a family statement said.

'He had struggled courageously with his illness, never losing his sense of humor and always concerned more about those who loved him than about himself,' the family statement said.

Graveside services are scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday at Lebanon Cemetery in Plains.

Billy Carter was diagnosed as suffering from inoperable cancer of the pancreas on Sept. 11, 1987, two days after he entered Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

He fit the mold of a 'good old boy' in the Southern definition with his salty, down-to-earth philosophy but sometimes proved an embarrassment to President Carter, especially his lobbying for the Libyan government shortly after his brother won the nomination in 1976.

Advertisement

On May 23, Billy Carter began an experimental treatment for pancreatic cancer at the National Cancer Institute in Bathesda, Md., near the nation's capital.

He was treated with the drug interleukin-2, which causes fever, extreme nausea, diarrhea, fluid retention and the possibility of heart and lung problems.

'It's my last chance, the only one I have left, except prayer, and I'm trying that too,' Carter said.

Carter said that at the National Cancer Institute, 'They seemed pretty excited about getting hold of me. They've only had one pancreas patient to try their drug on up there and when they found I've got perfect health -- well, except for cancer and my bum knees -- they said, 'Come on.' My heart and lungs and blood pressure, the rest of me is OK.'

One escapade, his involvement with the Libyan government in a $250,000 scandal, came at a time when dissidents in the Democratic Party were trying to prevent President Carter from winning renomination.

Billy Carter said he had done nothing wrong, but at the urging of the president he registered as a foreign agent.

Billy also was accused of anti-Semitism during because of contacts with the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi which came to light shortly after Jimmy Carter became president of the United States in 1977.

Advertisement

He accepted an invitation to go to Tripoli as Gadhafi's guest and later served as host to a visiting Libyan delegation in Atlanta and criticized Mayor Maynard Jackson for snubbing the Arabs.

The president's brother accused Jackson of being pressured by the city's Jewish community and added, 'There's a hell of a lot more Arabians than there is Jews.'

The remark drew outrage from the Jewish community, prompting Billy to respond that he was merely stating a statistical fact.

Scoffing at charges he was prejudiced against Jews, he said, 'I'm probably the least prejudiced man you'll find, I have no prejudice whatsoever. I have an aunt who is married to a Jew who's dead now, I have an uncle who is married to a Jew, I have a cousin, a first cousin, who's an orthodox Jew.'

Billy became a celebrity himself during his brother's campaign and after the inauguration he found himself in demand as a speaker at state fairs, dedications and on radio and television talk shows.

In less than two years after he joined the lecture circuit, Billy's populariy began to wane, and he admitted he was an alcoholic.

He entered the Long Beach Naval Medical Center's treatment facility in California for alcohol abuse and exhaustion.

Advertisement

Billy left the hospital looking healthier than ever and retired temporarily to his Buena Vista home where he had moved in 1977 to get away from the growing number of tourists who traveled to Plains.

But Billy went back to Libya in August 1979 to attend the 10th anniversary celebration of Gadhafi's rise to power in a 1969 military coup.

When Billy returned to the United States the Justice Department formally asked him to register as a foreign agent, although the president's brother had maintained all along that his Libyan connection was personal and had no sanction from the U.S. government.

Billy finally relented and registered -- at his brother's request, he said -- to avoid criminal prosecution.

Billy also was investigated by the Justice Department regarding loans by former Budget Director Bert Lance to the Carter family peanut business.

Billy's bouts with the bottle and his flirtations with the Libyan government obscured his business acumen.

While Jimmy Carter was governor of Georgia and during the two-year campaign that put him in the White House, Billy ran the family's peanut warehouse and built up the business until it was grossing $5 million annually.

Billy first appeared on the national scene as beer-guzzling operator of a filling station in Plains, spewing Southern redneck philosophy during the 1976 presidential campaign.

Advertisement

He shelled peanuts and offered easy solutions to the world's problems.

With the help of Nashville promoter Tandy Rice, Billy capitalized on his brother's move into the White House by endorsing products and taking speaking engagements.

'If people are crazy enough to pay money to hear me speak, I'm crazy enough to do it,' Billy said.

Rice billed Billy as a down-home country boy whose 'favorite foods are southern fried chicken, cheese straws and Pabst Blue Ribbon.'

Pabst Blue Ribbon soon gave way to 'Billy Beer,' but the label it failed to sell.

Shortly before Jimmy Carter took office, the Georgia Department of Revenue cited Billy Carter for allowing beer to be sold at his service station on Sunday.

'It was a college boy I hired during the Christmas holidays,' Billy said at the time. 'It was a mistake. A man came in and took the beer and paid the kid a dollar and walked out. The station was very busy at the time.'

Some of Billy's pronouncements hit touchy spots. He alienated the women's movement by saying, 'If they get more rights we'll have a pigsty.'

Billy moved into a more sensitive area when he joined a group of Georgia businessmen in the trip to Libya.

Advertisement

Thomas Jordan, an Atlanta real estate developer, said he set the trip up becasue Gadhafi was seeking to invest in U.S. businesses.

'I was told that the wealth of the Libyan state would be at my fingertips if I would deliver the younger brother of the president of the United States to Tripoli, so I delivered him,' Jordan said.

Billy also was criticized for urinating on a runway at the Atlanta airport but he said he was unable to get to a men's room.

Even though Billy's forays caused the president some embarrassment, officially Jimmy Carter took a hands-off attitude toward his brother.

Billy's sister, evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, died of pancreatic cancer in 1983 when she was 54. Carter's father also died of cancer in his 50s.

His mother Lillian, known everywhere as 'Miss Lillian,' died at age 85 on Oct. 30, 1983.

Besides his brother Jimmy, Billy Carter is survived by his wife, Sybil, their six children -- Kim, Jana Kay, Buddy, Marle, Mandy and Earl - and a sister, Gloria Spann.

Billy first appeared on the national scene as beer-guzzling operator of a filling station in Plains, spewing Southern redneck philosophy during the 1976 presidential campaign.

Advertisement

He shelled peanuts and offered easy solutions to the world's problems.

With the help of Nashville promoter Tandy Rice, Billy capitalized on his brother's move into the White House by endorsing products and taking speaking engagements.

'If people are crazy enough to pay money to hear me speak, I'm crazy enough to do it,' Billy said.

Rice billed Billy as a down-home country boy whose 'favorite foods are southern fried chicken, cheese straws and Pabst Blue Ribbon.'

Pabst Blue Ribbon soon gave way to 'Billy Beer,' but the label it failed to sell.

Shortly before Jimmy Carter took office, the Georgia Department of Revenue cited Billy Carter for allowing beer to be sold at his service station on Sunday.

'It was a college boy I hired during the Christmas holidays,' Billy said at the time. 'It was a mistake. A man came in and took the beer and paid the kid a dollar and walked out. The station was very busy at the time.'

Some of Billy's pronouncements hit touchy spots. He alienated the women's movement by saying, 'If they get more rights we'll have a pigsty.'

Billy moved into a more sensitive area when he joined a group of Georgia businessmen in the trip to Libya.

Advertisement

Thomas Jordan, an Atlanta real estate developer, said he set the trip up becasue Gadhafi was seeking to invest in U.S. businesses.

'I was told that the wealth of the Libyan state would be at my fingertips if I would deliver the younger brother of the president of the United States to Tripoli, so I delivered him,' Jordan said.

Billy also was criticized for urinating on a runway at the Atlanta airport but he said he was unable to get to a men's room.

Even though Billy's forays caused the president some embarrassment, officially Jimmy Carter took a hands-off attitude toward his brother.

On May 23, Carter began an experimental treatment for pancreatic cancer at the NationalCancer Institute in Bathesda, Md..

Carter was treated with the drug interleukin-2, which can cause fever, extreme nausea, diarrhea, fluid retention and the possibility of heart and lung problems.

'It's my last chance, the only one I have left, except prayer, and I'm trying that too,' Carter said before leaving Plains, Ga., for the institute. He was accompanied by his wife, Sybil.

Carter said that at the National Cancer Institute, 'They seemed pretty excited about getting hold of me. They've only had one pancreas patient to try their drug on up there and when they found I've got perfect health -- well, except for cancer and my bum knees -- they said, 'Come on.' My heart and lungs and blood pressure, the rest of me is OK.'

Advertisement

Billy's sister, evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, died of pancreatic cancer in 1983 when she was 54. Carter's father also died of cancer in his 50s.

His mother Lillian, known everywhere as 'Miss Lillian,' died at age 85 on Oct. 30, 1983.

Besides his brother Jimmy, Billy Carter is survived by his wife, Sybil, their six children -- Kim, Jana Kay, Buddy, Marle, Mandy and Earl - and a sister, Gloria Spann.

Latest Headlines