Lady Chablis, Trans Icon and Savannah's Grand Empress, Dead at 59

Chablis

Lady Chablis — a fixture in the gay clubs of Georgia and South Carolina before finding stardom in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and its film adaptation — has died at age 59, South Carolina's Island Packet newspaper reports.

Chablis helped bring a touch of glamour to Columbia, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., performing her cabaret show at gay nightclubs there. Chablis opened Savannnah's Club One in 1988 and would help define the image of Savannah as a sexy, modern city of the South. 

Always looking every inch the star she was, Chablis would figure prominently in John Berendt's best-selling nonfiction book Midnight in the Garden of Evil. The book focused on the murder of a male prostitute, allegedly committed by Jim Williams, a Savannah socialite and antiques dealer. Berendt effectively captured the charms of Savannah and included Chablis as a major character. When Clint Eastwood adapted the film, Chablis insisted on playing herself — and got her wish.

The movie — starring Kevin Spacey as the mostly closeted Williams — catapulted both Savannah and Chablis to fame. After the movie, crowds would flock to the historic streets of the city to check out sites from the film and hopefully catch a performance by Chablis.

After the film, Chablis continued her club performances, wrote an autobiography, and appeared on The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Bizarre Foods America: Savannah. Chablis also used her fame for good, raising money for diabetes and LGBT causes. She remained beloved in Savannah, even though she lived in South Carolina.

“Just as [Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil] shined the spotlight on Savannah, so too did Chablis shine the spotlight on the gay scene, and especially on Club One," Club One wrote on its Facebook page. "She was Club One’s very first entertainer, officiating our grand opening in 1988, and paving the way for female impersonation in Savannah. No one, however, could outshine the Grand Empress herself."

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