Most Americans, particularly film buffs, knew Gil Hill as Inspector Todd in the Beverly Hills Cop movies, starring Eddie Murphy. But to Detroiters, Hill was a highly regarded politician and a real police officer. Hill, 84, died yesterday at Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit. Cause of death was respiratory illness, according to a hospital spokesperson.
Hill was admitted to the hospital two weeks ago, said Chris Jackson, a spokesperson for the family.
As Inspector Todd, Hill was often seen chastising Axel Foley (Murphy), finding choice words to chew out the reckless, cantankerous detective under his supervision.
Although Hill was an inspector in charge of Detroits Homicide Division, his demeanor was nowhere near the character he portrayed. The only difference between Inspector Todd and my real life is that I dont curse as much in real life, Hill told reporters.
Born Gilbert R. Hill November 6, 1931 in Birmingham, Alabama, he was raised with his sister by their mother, whose meager earnings as a domestic worker was barely enough to keep them from sinking deeper into poverty. In the 1940s, the family moved to the nations capital where Hill attended Cardozo High School, graduating in 1949.
Given the lack of funds, his dream of attending Howard University was quickly dashed. The next option was the military and he joined the Air Force in 1950. He was stationed at Selfridge National Guard Air Base, which was not too far from Detroit. In 1953, his infatuation with the city led him there after mustering out of the service.
His quest for a decent job was almost as disappointing as his desire to attend Howard University, but he was finally successful in obtaining a job with the Wayne County Sheriffs Department in 1957. Two years earlier he had married Delores Hooks.
Hill was not satisfied with his duties in the sheriffs department and in 1959 he joined the Detroit Police Department. A decade later he rose in the ranks to a detective and then onto the homicide division.
I loved being a detective; there was just something about it,” Hill told the Detroit Free Press in 2001. “I was good at it. At one time, I would have rated myself among any of the best homicide detectives in the world.”
His reputation as a top cop spread far and wide; mainly known for his ability to coax confessions out of the most notorious killers. In 1980, Hills previous involvement in solving the Browning Gang Murders, which involved 15 victims, made him one of the super cops selected from around the country to go to Atlanta to help solve the Atlanta Child Murders, according to the Free Press.
Hill acquired national recognition following his involvement in the Atlanta case. Over two dozen murders in the city from 1979 to 1981, particularly the children, not only attracted Hill but also the great writer James Baldwin who ventured there and wrote a full length book about the tragedies. Wayne Williams was later convicted of the crimes.
By 1984, Hills combination of police brilliance and his good looks earned him a co-starring role with Murphy (memorably arrayed in his Mumford High School sweater), and Hill may have derived some of his film persona from Coleman Young, Detroits first Black Mayor, who was matchless when it came to using the M-F word.
But soon the tough reality of the Detroit streets were imitating the films and Hill was back on the beat, but in a lesser role than before. There were some contentious moments with other officers, who were presumably jealous of Hills fame, and this made it easier for him to leave the department and pursue a political career. He retired in 1989. That same year he was elected to the citys council.
Depending on which colleague you talked to, Hill was either a partner in prayer or a man of great humor and wit. Both were a far cry from Inspector Todd, who was killed off in the last sequel of the films.
In his bid to become mayor of the city in 2001, he was defeated by Kwame Kilpatrick. Detroits current Mayor Mike Duggan said that Gil Hill spent more than 40 years serving our city in the Detroit Police Department and as a member of the Detroit City Council. He never stopped believing in our city and dedicated his life to making our city a better place for all. Our condolences go out to his family,” the statement read.
Funeral arrangements were not yet released on Monday night. Hill is survived by two sons, a daughter, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Delores, passed away late last year, said the family spokesman, Chris Jackson.