Famed drag performer Heklina has died.
Fellow drag star Peaches Christ posted on Twitter and Facebook about finding Heklina, known as Stefan Grygelko outside of drag, dead in a hotel in London. The two were performing in Mommie Queerest, a musical parody of Mommie Dearest, at the Soho Theatre in that city.
“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,” Peaches Christ wrote. “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.”
The theater also sent a tweet of sympathy.
Heklina was a veteran of the San Francisco drag scene. She first became famous with the show Trannyshack (which was eventually renamed Mother), premiering in 1996 at the city’s Stud bar and later moving to the larger DNA Lounge. The performance offered “a uniquely queer riff on the political, social, racial, and gender controversies of the day,” according to The Bay Area Reporter.
The show featured female performers, known as “faux queens,” and drag kings in addition to drag queens. “Heklina threw out the rulebook on what it meant to be a drag performer,” the Reporter notes.
In 2015, Heklina, with others, opened another San Francisco bar, Oasis. She later sold her interest in the bar and moved to Palm Springs, Calif., in 2019. She often returned to San Francisco, hosting a monthly party, “Daytime Realness,” at the city’s El Rio bar. She opened the season there March 18, The San Francisco Standard reports.
She was also famed for her appearances as Dorothy Zbornak in onstage re-creations of episodes of the sitcom The Golden Girls. “The long-running show became an annual holiday tradition in San Francisco,” the Reporter relates.
Tributes are pouring in.