Heklina, Influential San Franciso Drag Legend, Dead at 55

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a Vulture writer covering comedy, theater, and music

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Heklina, a drag queen known for her work in the San Francisco drag community whose impact extends far beyond, has died at age 55. Her friend and collaborator Peaches Christ confirmed the death on social media on April 3. “This morning, in London, England I went to collect my dear friend Heklina, who is costarring with me in a Mommie Queerest show here, and found her dead,” Peaches wrote. “I do not know the cause of death yet. I know this is shocking news and I am beyond stunned, but I wanted to let folks know what has happened. Heklina is not just my best friend but a beloved icon of our community. I am a mess. Given this crisis, please do not try to contact me as I am utterly heartbroken, stunned, and focusing on what needs to get done next. I shall be in touch.”

Heklina was born in Minneapolis and lived in Iceland for a few years. She named herself in honor of the Icelandic volcano Hekla. Her drag career began in 1995 when she worked as a bartender for a punk drag show put on by the Sick & Twisted Players in San Francisco. She began Trannyshack, a drag show at the Stud bar, in 1996. “There was a real need for Trannyshack,” Heklina told the Bay Area Reporter in 2008. “People had just stopped dying of AIDS because new medications came out. It felt like a celebration after all that mourning, which was a dark year for me. I’d planned to go to some people’s funerals and there they were onstage with me.” In 2014, Heklina became one of the owners of the Oasis nightclub, and Trannyshack was rebranded there to a weekly show called Mother, which ran from 2015 through 2020.

Peaches joined her in shows regularly, including a yearly Golden Girls Live in which Heklina played Dorothy. “Heklina is an institution,” Alaska Thunderfuck, drag queen and winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season two, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2020. “The seedlings of drag that she has planted and watered over the years have grown into innumerable gardens and bouquets of drag excellence. I continue to admire her work ethic, her tenacity, and her heart. And her mole.”

Heklina, Influential San Franciso Drag Legend, Dead at 55

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