John W. Jay Biggert passed away on Tuesday, November 25th. While the man s name may not ring a bell to most Memphians, almost everyone who lives in the Mid-South has probably encountered Biggert s work at some time or another. If you ve ever seen a sign nailed to a tree or glued to the window of an abandoned building reading Tobacco Kills, you ve encountered the work of John W. Biggert. If you ve ever seen a flyer reading Dirty Tricks Were Used, announcing that a number of local lawyers, including Judge D.J. Allissandratos, would someday be judged by a higher power (and found wanting), you ve encountered the work of John W. Biggert. If you ve ever found an anti-gun-control pamphlet reading Register Communists -- Not Loyal Americans on your windshield, you ve encountered the work of John W. Biggert.
Biggert became addicted to smoking while serving in the armed forces. Mini-packs of cigarettes were included in his C-rations, and Biggert figured that nothing provided by the U.S. Army for consumption by its soldiers could be harmful. After a battery of surgeries that left his chest looking like a road map of Georgia, he changed his mind and began a one-man poster campaign against the tobacco industry. Biggert was a man of traditional (read: extremely conservative) morals, staunchly anti-gun control, anti-Communist, anti-hippie, and yes, even anti-Tinky Winky. He was a proud propagandist and a charter member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, a group which, according to Biggert, set out to prove a man could have short, neat hair and still ride a big ol hog.
Whether you admired the man s values or cursed his social politics, there can be little doubt that over time Biggert became (and quite accidentally) Memphis most prolific and visible folk artist. There are so many Tobacco Kills signs strewn throughout the region that Biggert s works will be seen by Memphians for years to come.