Living by his motto, “Will help anyone in distress,” Willie Perry became more than a good samaritan; he became the Batman of Birmingham, Alabama. Roving the streets in his souped-up 1971 Thunderbird (outfitted with TVs, a toaster oven, and an Atari video game system), Perry helped hundreds of citizens and acted as an unofficial arm of the police force in the 1970s and 80s — changing tires, sheltering stranded motorists, filling empty gas tanks, or acting as a first responder at crash sites. Even Michael Jackson wanted to find Perry and check out his car when he was in town for the Jackson 5’s “Victory Tour.”
Now, Birmingham community activist, filmmaker, and radio host Lee Shook wants to keep Perry’s legacy alive. Shook has launched Rescue the Rescue Ship project, an effort to help restore and preserve Perry’s car, which ended up in storage after he passed away in 1985. On August 3rd, Shook will announce their public fundraising campaign on Willie Perry Day at Old Car Heaven where the Rescue Ship sits and present Perry’s family with a resolution passed by the Alabama State Legislature honoring his contributions to the city. Marquetta Hill, Perry’s daughter, will also speak about the Willie Perry Foundation, her inner city outreach program she plans to start in honor of her father.
Shook is creating a documentary, tentatively called Smiles Per Gallon, about Perry’s life and the car’s restoration. Shook and Hill are also issuing the “#WilliePerryDayChallenge” on social media.
“We want to challenge people to go out and do a good deed, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, whether it’s checking on your elderly neighbor, picking up trash at your local park, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or helping someone on the side of the road,” says Shook. “Then those people will post about it on social media to challenge others. We hope the posts will create a viral sensation of good will and philanthropy that will continue on throughout the year in Willie’s name as we strive to get people to make every day a Willie Perry Day.”
For more information on the Rescue the Rescue Ship Project and Willie Perry Day or how you can contribute to the restoration efforts, click here.