Underground Icon Taylor Mead Dies

By Christopher Harrity

Originally published on Advocate.com May 09 2013 12:28 PM ET

Long time arts icon Taylor Mead, a constant presence in Manhattan's lower East Side, died yesterday repoorts boweryboogie.com.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Mead's first known appearance was in Ron Rice's beat classic The Flower Thief (1960), in which he "traipses with an elfin glee through a lost San Francisco of smoke-stuffed North Beach cafes." Mead was referred to as the first underground film star.

His rubbery physique and his fey delivery made him a natural to play the straight men with a twist in Warhol's early films (Tarzan and Jane Regained...Sort Of, Couch, Taylor Mead's Ass, Imitation of Christ, Lonesome Cowboys, and the recently released San Diego Surf (1968) in which he played the closeted husband of Viva Superstar.

In the mid 1970s, Gary Weis made some short films of Mead talking to his cat in the kitchen of his Ludlow Street apartment on the Lower East Side called Taylor Mead's Cat. Mead was known to feed the stray cats in an East Village cemetery after bar-hopping.

Mead was a constant figure in the Bowery poetry world. His last book of poems (published by Bowery Poetry Books) is called A Simple Country Girl.

He was the subject of a documentary entitled Excavating Taylor Mead, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005. The film features a cameo by Jim Jarmusch, in which Jarmusch explains that once, when Mead went to Europe, he enlisted Jarmusch's brother to feed the cemetery cats in Mead's absence.

His passing comes just a month after accepting a settlement with notorious landlord Ben Shaoul to vacate 163 Ludlow Street, the Lower East Side tenement building he called home for three decades.

Below, view Mead with other Warhol stars in The Aging Rock Star.