Underground Transgender Icon Holly Woodlawn Dies at 69

She was immortalized by Lou Reed, Andy Warhol
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2015 9:10 AM CST
Underground Transgender Icon Holly Woodlawn Dies at 69
In this 2012 photo provided by David Chick, actress Holly Woodlawn sits on a pier in Malibu, Calif.   (David Chick via AP)

Holly Woodlawn, one of Andy Warhol's "drag queen superstars" who was also immortalized in Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," died Sunday at age 69 after battling cancer, the AP reports. Born in Puerto Rico, her mother moved Holly—who was, at that point, Harold—to New York and then Miami Beach, the New York Times reports. Woodlawn hitchhiked back to New York at 16, where she was a go-go dancer, among other things: "I was turning tricks, living off the streets and wondering when my next meal was coming," she wrote in her 1991 memoir. While performing in a friend's musical in 1969, Woodlawn told a journalist that she was one of Warhol's superstars, and though that wasn't actually true at that point, her comment got his attention and led to what the Times refers to as Woodlawn's "underground stardom."

Warhol's filmmaking partner Paul Morrissey cast her in the 1970 film Trash as the girlfriend of a heroin addict, and the performance got good reviews. She went on to star alongside two other transgender actresses in Morrissey's 1971 film Women in Revolt; both films were produced by Warhol. In 1972, Reed wrote the first lines of his now-classic song about Woodlawn at Warhol's suggestion, the Washington Post reports: "Holly came from Miami F-L-A / Hitchhiked her way across the USA / Plucked her eyebrows on the way / Shaved her legs and then he was a she / She says, 'Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.'" She went on to do a few more films and perform as a cabaret artist, but by the end of the 1970s she was working at a Benihana in Miami. She moved to California in the 1990s, where she studied fashion design and had a few more roles, most recently in Amazon's Transparent. (Click to read about 24 transgender historical figures.)

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