Drag Legend Heklina Dead at 55

Legendary drag queen and staple of the San Francisco drag scene, Heklina, has died at the age of 55.

Close friend and collaborator, Peaches Christ, announced her passing on social media on April 3. “I am shocked and horrified to bring this news to you. I am living in a real-life nightmare so forgive me if I don’t have all the answers just now,” Peaches wrote. “This morning, in London, England, I went to collect my dear friend Heklina, who is costarring with me in a Mommie Queerest show here, and found her dead. 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. 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.”

Born in Minneapolis, the drag queen drew inspiration for her name from the Icelandic volcano Hekla, having lived in the Nordic island nation for a period of three years during the ’80s. Heklina got her start in drag in 1995, working as a bartender in San Francisco for a punk drag show before going on to cofound Trannyshack at the Stud bar in 1996. After becoming San Francisco’s longest running drag show, it would go on to be rebranded as Mother after Heklina became one of the owners of Oasis nightclub in 2014.

“There was a real need for Trannyshack,” Heklina told the Bay Area Reporter in 2008. “There was a real void for an alternative venue. When Trannyshack started in 1995, people had just stopped dying of AIDS, because new medications came out. It felt like a celebration after all that mourning, which was a dark year for me. I’d planned to go to some people’s funerals, and there they were on stage with me.”

In addition to the recurring drag show, Heklina collaborated with Peaches on numerous projects throughout her career including several horror spoofs, a yearly production of Golden Girls where she played Dorothy and most recently, the drag parody Mommie Queerest which the two were set to tour across the UK this spring.

“Heklina is an institution,” Alaska Thunderfuck told SF Chronicle in 2020, citing Trannyshack as one of the inspirations that pushed her into starting her own drag career. “The seedlings of drag that she has planted and watered over the years have grown into innumerable gardens and bouquets of drag excellence. I continue to admire her work ethic, her tenacity and her heart. And her mole.”

Since word of her passing, tributes from across the drag community have poured in:

Photo via Getty/Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


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