Party Girl

Confronting advanced breast cancer without a dime to her name, Texas legend Priscilla Davis insists the good times aren't over yet

"Another little girl who played with my granddaughter told her she had to stop because little Priscilla was black," Davis says. "And another time, she came home and said, 'Mommy, am I black?' And I said, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' I mean, good Lord, if you trace anybody's family tree back far enough, we're all from mixed races."

Priscilla Davis' mother, Audie, who had helped her raise the child even as she remained at the Warrington, died in 1992 at the age of 83. Then, Dee Davis left prison for the last time in 1994. She threw herself passionately into 12-step recovery programs during her last sentence, and emerged having been clean for three years. During the next four years, she earned a license as an addiction counselor and was granted visitation rights, then joint custody. Little Priscilla now lives with her in Fort Worth. The child has not, however, found it so easy to escape the Cullen Davis controversy, which started eight years before she was born.

"Those asshole teachers in Fort Worth couldn't leave it alone," Dee Davis fumes. "Little Priscilla was in Texas history class, and they started debating the murders. 'Did Cullen do it, or didn't he?' She just sat there silently until the end of the class. Then she went up to the teacher and said, 'That's my grandmother.' The teacher was shocked. She didn't know."

In the country clubs of Fort Worth, everyone knew what "Priscilla's drink" was: vodka with a splash of water.
In the country clubs of Fort Worth, everyone knew what "Priscilla's drink" was: vodka with a splash of water.

Just as Dee Davis was in transition to prove that little Priscilla could live with her safely and to the court's satisfaction, the elder Priscilla met a man at a party who was 28 years her junior. It was 1995, and bubble-lipped, acerbic Greg Brown, whose hair then was just beginning to thin, quickly became what two other associates called "a soulmate." He identified himself as a gay man, and continues to do so if asked. This is not unusual for the Priscilla Davis who found herself delving deeper into the Oak Lawn club scene--many, if not most, of her closest friends are gay men.

"When we walk into the gay clubs, she gets twirled around like a top," says Brown. "'Oh, have you met so-and-so?' She doesn't have an affinity for them; they have an affinity for her. She's the local Barbra Streisand."

Priscilla's theory is: "I think a lot of minorities appreciate someone who was judged not for what they'd done, but for who they were. They feel comfortable with me because I've had stuff happen to me."

Greg moved into Priscilla's Oak Lawn apartment in June 1995, and it was late that year, he says, when the two became "an exclusive couple." They are friends and lovers. Brown has offered to marry Priscilla, if only to try and get her breast cancer treatments covered on his insurance at work. But she has resisted; in three years she'll turn 62, and because she was married more than 10 years to Cullen Davis, will be eligible to draw from his social security.

That will certainly contribute to what has been, throughout the '90s, a small and unpredictable income. Friends have found or created a series of full- and part-time jobs for Priscilla--she did fragrance modeling (spraying perfume on paper samples) at Neiman Marcus, worked as a hostess at a gentleman's club, The Lodge, and helped a pair of male friends, a gay couple, at their wholesale flower business. One of them, Cary Fisher, says, "In a way, I'm glad I didn't know Priscilla when she had all that money. She's humble now, very 'been there, done that.' I had a car accident one time, and just flipped out about it. She was like, 'Cary, it's a car. You can have it fixed.' She helps me look at things that way."

Still, scant material means are not noble when you face a life-threatening illness. Priscilla began to experience pain in her right nipple around August of last year. The doctors detected a lump, but she was not immediately alarmed; she'd had benign cysts removed before, and figured it might be leakage from her silicone implants. They were first inserted in 1968 and replaced in 1979 (physicians recommend they be switched out every 10 years), but by 1990, she couldn't pay for new ones. She also didn't have the funds or the insurance to pay for the diagnostic measures on this recent diagnosis. She wound her way through the Parkland Hospital system, and at the start of this year was diagnosed with "stage four" cancer--doctors discovered it had spread to her spine, her leg, and her liver. When they delivered the news, Greg recalls, he said, "Rats!" Then Priscilla said, "More rats!"

"Priscilla is one of these people who believes in not asking too much," Brown explains. "It's like, if she doesn't know about it, it's not happening."

Dee Davis borrowed an oncology textbook from a friend attending medical school and, sitting with her mother in the physician's Parkland office, began to fire off informed questions. Priscilla balked.

"I was like, 'If you're going to talk about me like this, let me leave the room first,'" Priscilla says. " I have always asked them to tell me only as much as I needed to know."

Jack Strickland says, "In terms of her current crisis, it's bad for her and worse for us, but it's not the worst. She was in that courtroom watching smug Cullen and Cullen's smug lawyers after she'd lost a daughter the way she had. She knew what happened."

When Priscilla was first admitted into Parkland, during the interview to place her with a primary physician, the doctor began to ask a series of questions about her family background based on information she'd supplied in the paperwork. How, this friendly but oblivious man in his fifties wanted to know, did her daughter Andrea die?

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help