Party Girl

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

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?

Priscilla and Greg looked at each other. Did he remember the Cullen Davis murders back in the '70s? he was asked. Of course, he replied. There was another pause, as the connection once again was not made. That's Priscilla Davis, Greg said, pointing to his partner. They said the doctor's eyes almost fell out of his head. Later on in the interview, he just had to ask: How did someone of her wealth wind up sitting in Parkland right now?

"Priscilla said, 'Stuff happens,'" Greg recalls. "And the doctor said, 'I guess stuff does happen.' But I know her. What she really wanted to say was, 'Shit happens.'"

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A large mural hangs in the living room of Priscilla Davis' Oak Lawn apartment. It's frayed around the edges and faded from the sun, because it once was displayed in a window without curtains. The '83 photo was taken to be showcased in some chi-chi restaurant whose name Priscilla has forgotten. It features prominent Dallasites like Julia Sweeney and Kendall Bailey against a stark white background, champagne glasses held aloft in celebration. Priscilla is right there clutching her own champagne flute, head turned to toss a look over her shoulder, mouth open in that movie-star smile. I notice, though, that one of the revelers in the picture has blue marker scribbled all over her face.

"I had a couple of cocktails one night and did that," Priscilla says sheepishly. "That woman told Greg, 'Priscilla will never have any peace until she forgives Cullen.'"

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