Bill Russell’s wife Marilyn Russell passed away in January of 2009 after a battle with cancer. Bill was understandably devastated, saying of Marilyn, “I lost my life partner. Now, any time I hear the word cancer, I feel sad.” He gave a New England sports channel a great anecdote about her that sums up personality pretty well. He said once they were taking a trip and driving some place when she handed him her glasses and asked him to clean them for her. He did so, and when she put them on she appeared startled and said, “My god, you’re black!” What’s a good relationship without a sense of humor in the mix?
Marilyn was born in Kansas while Bill was born in Louisiana. After high school, Bill Russell’s wife moved to Seattle and became a jewelry saleswoman. For a moment, I questioned how Billy would have run into Marilyn, but then I realized he was coach of the Seattle Supersonics from 1973 to 1977. Prior to Bill moving to Seattle, he was married to his college sweetheart, Rose Swisher. They had been married for seventeen years. Bill had taken up residence in Mercer Island, Washington when he first moved to the state. That’s why he was able to maintain a connection to Seattle that entire time. In between 1996 when Bill married Marilyn, he was briefly wed to the 1968 Miss USA, Dorothy Anstett.
Marilyn got to know the Bill Russell of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I’m curious what she would have thought of the Bill Russell of the 1960’s who the media absolutely hated. Make no mistake: Bill Russell hated the media too. His antagonistic nature with both the fans and reporters is well documented so there’s no need to go into it here. Bill Russell’s wife Marilyn actually met him in 1973 right after he moved to Washington after walking into a jewelry store and making a connection with her. According to a book called The Ring Leader about Bill, they stayed friends from 1973 onward. She made the crack about a woman working in a jewelry store being the worst place to meet guys because they only come in to buy stuff for their wives and fiances. She makes a good point, but her jewelry store is where she met Bill.