Art's Forgotten Widow

When legendary queer artist Keith Haring died, he left behind his longtime partner Juanito (Xtravaganza) Rivera, cutting him out of his will and leaving him to obscurity.

BY Charlie Vazquez

January 16 2009 1:00 AM ET

Despite Juanito’s being accused of leaching onto
Haring’s fortune, he helped Haring stretch
canvasses, accompanied him around the world,
filled in murals, drove, cooked, and took care of him
while he was dying.
By Juan’s and Haring’s own
accounts in his journals, Juan very actively assisted
and supported Haring doing all the things that you mention,
from stretching canvasses to filling in murals, from
driving to cooking, during the time that they were
together from 1986 to briefly before Haring’s
death in 1990. And in addition Juan has a fascinating
personality and is an engaging storyteller, with a haunting
voice, as I have tried to capture in his interviews in
the book. 

So what does Juanito think of the book? He feels very proud about the way his life and
stories have been captured. You know, I was compelled
to write the book when Juan walked back into my life
after almost 20 years from first meeting him in New
Haven and handed me a book he could barely read, John
Gruen’s Keith Haring: The Authorized
Biography
, where his name appeared besmirched. So
I wanted to get his story right, to tell it as a
tribute, a small tribute to the creativity and beauty of
lives like Juan’s, but I also wanted to tell a
complex story, not an airbrushed or heroic one. I had
read drafts of the book to Juan many times, but I was
still very nervous when Juan’s friends from the New
York ballroom scene and his family from New Haven, his
mother, his sisters, and even his little nephews and
nieces, showed up to the book’s launch at Barnes
& Noble last fall. It was a packed house with ballroom
children and HIV activists, Latin American and Latino
academics, critics, writers, and family. And at the
end of the reading, Juan’s sister, a pretty and
elegant woman, stood up and proceeded to thank me in very
eloquent and moving words on behalf of her family. At
that moment Juan’s face seemed to glow and I
felt like I was floating, like a weight had been finally
lifted.

Tags: Books

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