Later he became a folk musician - a 'rambling man' - with a genuine talent for playing the banjo. But it was his ability to spin stories, tell jokes and hold an audience in the palm of his hand that truly set him apart. As a young comedian Billy broke all the rules.
He was fearless and outspoken - willing to call out hypocrisy wherever he saw it. But his stand-up was full of warmth, humility and silliness too. His startling, hairy 'glam-rock' stage appearance - wearing leotards, scissor suits and banana boots - only added to his appeal.
It was an appearance on Michael Parkinson's chat show in 1975 - and one outrageous story in particular - that catapulted Billy from cult hero to national star. TV shows, documentaries, international fame and award-winning Hollywood movies followed. Billy's pitch-perfect stand-up comedy kept coming too - for over 50 years, in fact - until a double diagnosis of cancer and Parkinson's Disease brought his remarkable live performances to an end.
Since then he has continued making TV shows, creating extraordinary drawings... and writing. Windswept and Interesting is Billy's story in his own words.
It is joyfully funny - stuffed full of hard-earned wisdom as well as countless digressions on fishing, farting and the joys of dancing naked. It is an unforgettable, life-affirming story of a true comedy legend. 'I didn't know I was Windswept and Interesting until somebody told me.
It was a friend who was startlingly exotic himself. He'd just come back from Kashmir and was all billowy shirt and Indian beads. I had long hair and a beard and was swishing around in electric blue flairs.
He said: "Look at you - all windswept and interesting!"I just said: "Exactly!"After that, I simply had to maintain my reputation...'