Billy Preston's Bankruptcy Case Still Going, Eight Years After His Death

Billy Preston in 1971
Billy Preston in 1971
Heinrich Klaffs / Wikimedia Commons

One of music's monumental figures, the legendary "fifth Beatle," Billy Preston, died eight years ago at the age of 59, but not without controversy.

After a legacy of solo hits and recording credits with the Fab Four, few could have guessed that one of the mega-afro-sporting, gap-toothed artist's biggest songs "Will It Go Round in Circles?" would be symbolic of bitter legal battles for his lucrative, multi-million dollar estate.

On Monday, a federal judge in California ruled that Preston, despite a long history of health problems stemming from kidney disease and cocaine addiction, was not incapacitated at the time he filed for bankruptcy in 2005. While this doesn't signal the end in the case, its brings more sad and interesting facts to light about Preston's untimely death.

The court dispute stems back to 2011, when plaintiff Todd Neilson (the Chapter 7 trustee for the bankruptcy estate) filed a complaint against Preston's family and Joyce Moore, his long time manager, seeking a judgment that Preston was not incapacitated when he filed a bankruptcy petition in 2005 in the Central District of California.

Preston's trust remained revocable, and the assets currently held by Neilson and any other assets of Preston are assets of the bankruptcy estate.

Moore, wife of R&B legend Sam Moore, is the lead defendant in the bankruptcy case.

Court documents show that Preston traveled to the Bahamas on Oct. 15-17, 2005, for a birthday celebration, where he was perceived to be "coherent, cogent and charming." 

The next day he traveled to Los Angeles with Moore (who had Preston's medical power of attorney) and others, and was "fine on the airplane and at rehearsal." On Oct. 19, 2005, Preston underwent dialysis treatment and then attended a recording session. Obviously, whatever drug issues he had--and they were without a doubt serious--weren't entirely incapacitating him. 

A video taken of the recording session showed Preston communicating with other musicians and playing the organ with "mutual satisfaction about the performance."

That evening, Preston attended a Concert for Bangladesh DVD release party in honor of late Beatle George Harrison. He performed three songs, and exhibited moods varying from "normal and in good spirits" to "gruff and moody." Opinions vary as to whether Preston was high at the party. 

On Oct. 20, 2005, instead of flying to Cleveland for an event, court documents say that Preston returned to his Arizona home because he was not feeling well. 

When Moore spoke to Preston the next day he was unusually "abrupt and demanding," but also "ecstatic" that, per his request, Moore scheduled a medical appointment for the next day. 

The appointment didn't go well, ending with Preston suffering a seizure.  

Billy Preston, George Harrison, Gerald Ford, and Ravi Shankar in the Oval Office
Billy Preston, George Harrison, Gerald Ford, and Ravi Shankar in the Oval Office
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library/ Wiki Commons

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About 30 hours after admission to the hospital, Dr. Lee Ann Kelley diagnosed Preston as dependent on cocaine and observed he was depressed. But the doctor also discussed the treatment recommendations with the patient without Moore's presence--a fact that, according to a court ruling--undermined the manager's claims musical star had been mentally incapacitated at the time.

The ruling is another road block to the strenuous attempts by Moore to give control of the estate.

Releasing a slew of albums from the early '60s to the early '00s, Preston's credits as a singer, songwriter and electric pianist included tracks with the Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Sly and the Family Stone. And of course, he was the only artist in history featured with the Beatles on a hit, 1970 record, "Get Back," with credits as "The Beatles with Billy Preston."

The bankruptcy court reviewed declarations of Dr. Kelley, Moore, Otto D'Angelo, Roger Friedman, and Ollie Ervin, as well as the declarations, exhibits, and papers submitted at trial. The court noted the changes to the declarations filed by Moore and Dr. Kelley regarding Preston's capacity - from asserting in 2006 that Preston had capacity to declaring in 2013 that Preston did not have capacity. 

After weighing the competing declarations, the judge determined that Moore and Dr. Kelley's assertions lacked credibility. However, this is only one ruling in a seemingly endless legal battle.

Though the case has yet to be fully decided, it only seems to add one more helping of woe to the final days of a great legacy of one of pop music's most underrated geniuses. 

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