The widow of Houston rock icon Dusty Hill, the legendary ZZ Top bassist who passed away last year, is speaking out in the aftermath of an estate sale of the star’s belongings that she says she never knew about or endorsed, and she has decided to take legal action.
Her discovery of the sale she says she never authorized and was promoted as being from the estate and family of Dusty Hill, has “devastated” Charleen Hill — Dusty’s wife of nearly 20 years — and left her “in tears,” she tells CultureMap in an exclusive interview.
In a cease and desist letter filed in Harris County District Court 215 and sent to estate sale organizers Thom Anderson, Dominique Kendall, and Gilded Monkey Market, Charleen Hill says through her attorney Geoffrey Menin that she only learned of the sale after seeing media coverage such as this CultureMap story (which was immediately updated upon discovery of the reported misrepresentation and after contacting Anderson), stories on our news partner ABC13 and other outlets across the state, and advertisements on EstateSales.net.
Hill, through her legal team, also filed a temporary restraining order/injunction in Harris County court. “This is a tragic story of greed and disrespect,” reads the restraining order application. “It is also the story of unscrupulous persons seeking to take advantage of the name and great reputation of a Texas legend, all so they could make exaggerated sums of money at his expense.”
How could this happen? A June press release sent to CultureMap and other media outlets announcing the sale clearly indicates that the sale was from the family and estate and included Dusty Hill’s belongings. During a June 6 interview with CultureMap, Anderson stressed the personal nature of the items for sale, citing, for example, a whiteboard featuring a self portrait by Dusty Hill, and said that the sale was a “chance to own a piece of history.”
Hill and Menin have stated that they do not blame CultureMap for any of the inaccuracies in the initial article, noting, “you were misled too, just like the fans.”
The letter to Anderson and Kendall asserts that Charleen and Dusty Hill’s estate have “absolutely nothing to do with” the sale. Hill and Menin also stress that a “substantial” amount of the furniture pieces pictured in the EstateSales.net listing were “never owned by the Hills,” adding to a clear misrepresentation of the “family” aspect and origin of the sale. The Hill’s Woodlands home was sold in 2013, according to an affidavit provided to CultureMap.
The cease and desist letter states that the Gilded Monkey Market, Anderson, and Kendall are in clear violation of Chapter 26 of the Texas Property Code, which forbids unauthorized use of a deceased individual’s name in connection with advertising products, merchandising, or goods — as well as the rights of Dusty, Charleen, and the Hill estate.
Menin and Charleen Hill also maintain that the violation even extends to ZZ Top as a band, as the Gilded Monkey marketing materials promoting the sale and used at the sale itself featured one of the Hall of Fame trio’s iconic logos — which they say the organizers never received permission to use.
Anderson and Kendall have ignored Menin’s repeated requests for communication and action, Menin says. “Not in a million years would our client launch a sale of memorabilia — or any other personal property owned by the family – at the first anniversary of Dusty’s death,” Menin wrote to Anderson and Kendall in an email. “Your actions and the surrounding publicity have resulted in incalculable pain and suffering for Dusty’s wife, and substantial damage to her reputation.”
Worse, says Menin, Charleen received a call from her banker friend, who — upon seeing the news stories — wondered if Charleen was in “financial distress” and was now forced to liquidate family belongings.
With their attempts to communicate ignored, Menin says he and local attorney Barry Flynn have now been forced to bring an action in court to enforce the Hill estate’s rights under Texas law. The Harris County court quickly issued a temporary restraining order, restricting the use and distribution of funds generated by the sale.
Menin tells CultureMap that Flynn has been unable to locate Anderson or Kendall to serve them court papers. “It’s incredible,” Menin says. “They could have held the sale at some point in the future, but it would have had to be promoted in an honest and appropriate way.”
Anderson, as of publication of this story, has yet to respond to CultureMap’s request for comment.
Menin also wants the public to, “understand who Dusty Hill was and how he always treated his fans. This sale really cheapens who he was, who the family is — it would never be that way. Dusty would never do anything to permit these people to use his name to charge enormous amounts of money to his fans who he loved. They were attributing this sale to Dusty, and they were able to get more money as a result. And it just made Charleen very sad — and also very angry.”
“When I found out, I must have cried for three days, because Dusty was always all about the fans,” Charleen tells CultureMap. “It really, really bothered me because of the mere fact that we would have never done that. Considering the fact that stuff went back, you know, some of it 20 years, and then I discovered how much they were charging. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, some of the stuff isn't even ours.’ I just have to say to people, ‘I’m so sorry.’”
Should such a sale of Dusty Hill’s belongings ever be considered, Charleen adds, it would be for a future, music-focused foundation “set up to help people, not make money. Dusty never forgot that the fans were the ones who put him into his position. We’ve always helped out people that we could. We never wanted to say it out loud because it takes away from giving. If you have to say that you gave to somebody, what’s the point? You do it because you want to out of the kindness of your heart, you don’t brag on it.”
Charleen says she was especially shocked that ZZ Top’s logo was used to promote the sale. “I will tell you this,” she continues, “when we threw the 50th anniversary party for the band, both the drummer’s wife and I had to ask permission to use the logo.”
All this comes as the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death draws near. Charleen says she’s doing her best to cope. “As it gets closer to the 28th of July, it gets a little bit more surreal, to me,” she says. “I just pretend that he’s on the road. But, I never get those phone calls … during the day, when he was on tour, he used to call me like a hundred times,” she fondly remembers.
She laughs when told that such news of her husband’s warm and doting sentimentality is a tad different than the ultra-cool rock star so many fans perceived. “You have to understand that I just saw my husband,” she says. “I didn’t see him like a rock star or ZZ Top. You know, we were pretty much attached at the hip and so it’s really been really difficult. I feel like I’ve lost my twin.”
Having lost her “twin,” Charleen has since moved from the Houston area, but is still surrounded by friends and nostalgia.
Though she misses him bitterly, she says her beloved husband, best friend, and partner for almost two decades is still letting her know he’s around: “I feel Dusty all around me.”