Bill Hicks has been dead for 20 years. Now there's a sentence to make you feel old.

When Hicks was recording what would eventually be released as his Arizona Bay album, he began to feel pains in his side. He was a smoker, drinker and taker of many drugs - pain was par for the course.

Less than two years later one of the finest comedians ever to have sworn on stage was dead of pancreatic cancer at the age of 32. 'Cruel' is an overused word when it comes to things as commonplace as dying of cancer but it's pretty fucking accurate for this one.

Listening to Arizona Bay now, it's obvious Hicks was at the top of his game when he got sick. Take this, from the album's first track, 'Goodbye You Lizard Scum', on the subject of his temporary hometown of Los Angeles:

"Every day, hot and sunny. And they love it. 'Ain't it great, hot and sunny. Hot and sunny every day, ain't that neat?' What are you, a fucking lizard? Only reptiles feel that way about this kind of weather. I'm a mammal, I can afford scarves, coats, cappuccino and rosy-cheeked women and all are available for sale."

Hicks described his act: "The comedy of hate. Join me!"

Bill Hicks can safely be regarded as one of the Four Horsemen of Comedy, alongside Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. These are the comedians who piss other comics off by raising the bar, who spawn countless imitators and who will probably never be bested before we all start clutching our pancreases and keeling over.

Hicks is lauded today like few others, but bizarrely he wasn't particularly famous in his lifetime. More so than the US it was Britain who seemed to get his act, even if Hicks did poke fun at Brits whenever possible ("this is Hobbiton and I am Bilbo Hicks"). His last British performance at the Dominion Theatre in 1993 was played to the type of packed, adoring crowds you see chancers like McIntyre and Flanagan play to so blandly every night 20 years on. Clearly, we learned nothing.

Well, some of us did. Some of us took Hicks as literally as possible, turning into the type of cynical, atheist, anti-authoritarian freakshows that write for The 405 today. Hicks merrily extolled the virtues of magic mushrooms in his act and many of us tried them for the first time entirely because of his recommendation. Not an experience I regret, I can safely say.

He wasn't the last great comedian - for one, Carlin was producing remarkable comedy up until his own end in 2008. Some comedians today carry the Hicks fire in their belly - to varying degrees you can detect the Hicks mentality in the acts of Bill Burr, Jim Jefferies, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Lee Camp, Lewis Black, Kyle Kinane and probably loads more comedians who should be famous but aren't.

Though the association no doubt makes him spit shit in fury, the closest you'll get to a modern-day Hicks is Doug Stanhope.

Ah shut up Stanhope, just take the fucking compliment will you?

And continuing the fine tradition of saying things unlikely to get you an immediate call from the producer of Live at Hammersmith Apollo is Michael Che, who is from a newly wealthy area of New York City, and who describes such gentrification as "A bunch of white people moving to a fucked up neighbourhood and opening up cupcake stores everywhere."

Bill Hicks lives on. Well, obviously he doesn't since he's 20 years in the ground. But his comedy is still ludicrously relevant, from wars in the Middle East to drug legalisation, from corrupt politicians to the feeling of emptiness you feel when yet another worthless comic tells yet another dick joke. He is still missed and pancreatic cancer can fuck right off.

And the last word goes to the man himself.