RIP: Remembering the beloved LGBTQ+ figures we lost in 2023

RIP: Remembering the beloved LGBTQ+ figures we lost in 2023

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Simon Dunn, Paul Reubens, Sinead O'Connor
L-R: Simon Dunn, Paul Reubens, Sinead O’Connor (Photos: YouTube/Shutterstock)

From actors to athletes to activists, here are just some of the noteworthy LGBTQ+ names we mourned over the last 12 months. RIP…

Carmen Xtravaganza, 62

Carmen Xtravaganza joined the House of Xtravaganza ballroom family in 1985. The model and singer died in early August following a battle with lung cancer.

​​”It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of Carmen Xtravaganza’s passing,” the House announced on Facebook. “Throughout the 1980s, Carmen reigned on the runways as one of the House of Xtravaganza’s ‘impossible beauties.’”

“In 1988, Carmen’s star shined even brighter when she graced the cover of the Village Voice for an article by Donald Suggs titled ‘Venus Envy: The Drag Balls of Harlem.’ This moment was pivotal as the House Ballroom scene began gaining mainstream attention.”

“Carmen’s unforgettable appearance alongside her sister Brooke in the 1990 film Paris Is Burning showcased her candidness and humor as she shared her experiences as a trans woman. Her openness and bravery helped pave the way for others, leaving an enduring legacy of acceptance and love.”

Paul Reubens, 70

Paul Reubens as Pee Wee Herman

Actor Paul Reubens will be better known to millions for his comic creation, Pee-wee Herman. Initially honed as a stage act, HBO captured a Pee-wee performance in Los Angeles in 1981. This led to the 1985 movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, helmed by first-time director Tim Burton. A successful kids TV show followed in the late 80s.

Reubens fell from grace in 1991 after he was arrested for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. He was also sentenced to three months probation after being arrested in 2004 after he was found in possession of sexual images of minors. Despite this, he continued to make occasional appearances on screen and retained a cult following. Pee-wee’s last outing was the 2016 Netflix movie, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.

For many gay people in the late 80s, Pee-wee Herman was a beloved and inspiring figure. He was the camp outsider who just wanted to spread happiness and joy and who eventually won folk over through his own comical naivete. Reubens himself, however, never publicly discussed his sexuality or clarified that of his most famous character.

Reubens died July 30, aged 70, six years after a cancer diagnosis which he kept private. Among those to pay tribute was chat show host Jimmy Kimmel, who said in a statement, “Paul Reubens was like no one else — a brilliant and original comedian who made kids and their parents laugh at the same time. He never forgot a birthday and shared his genuine delight for silliness with everyone he met. My family and I will miss him.”

Bobby Rivers, 70

Movie-critic-turned-TV-personality Bobby Rivers died December, 26th, in Minneapolis. He was known for such shows as Food Network’s Top 5 and VH1’s celebrity talk show, Watch Bobby Rivers.

Rivers grew up in Los Angeles. He got his break working for Milwaukee radio station WQFM as a newsman, before becoming the city’s first Black film critic with regular appearances on WISN-TV in the late 1970s. He landed his Watch Bobby Rivers show with VH1 in the late 80s, and went on to jobs with ABC and Lifetime TV. He dabbled in acting and also wrote a popular movie blog. His last post was a November 19 review of Colman Domingo in Rustin.

Queerty contributor Michael Musto was among those to pay tribute. In Facebook, Musto said, “Bobby Rivers was an openly gay trailblazer. He was funny, campy, knowledgeable and groundbreaking. Bobby knew everything about old movies and simply lived for diva gossip. He also trailblazed by doing a stage show about his lover’s battle with AIDS, back when it was practically a taboo subject.”

Simon Dunn, 35

Gay athlete Simon Dunn died in January at the age of 35. Raised in Australia, Dunn took up bobsledding after spending time in Canada when younger. He became the first out-gay person to represent any country in the sport at the international level.

He retired from the bobsled in 2016 and moved to London, UK, for several years. In England, he played for the gay rugby team, the Kings Cross Steelers. After returning to Australia, he played for the Sydney Convicts. He was with the side when they competed in the Bingham Cup last year.

Dunn was a regular face on the cover of gay magazines around the world. In 2018 and 2019, he was shortlisted for the Australian LGBTI Awards Sports Personality of the Year.

Dunn’s body was found in his Sydney apartment by police on the morning of Saturday, January 21st. His death was not treated as suspicious by authorities.

Paul O’Grady, 67

Paul O'Grady

British comedian and TV presenter Paul O’Grady died suddenly of a heart attack on March 28th. He was 67. Although less known outside of the UK, in Britain he was an institution. Originally from Birkenhead, Cheshire, O’Grady began performing as drag queen Lily Savage in the late 1970s. In the mid-90s, he made the move on to TV and achieved mainstream success.

Stepping out of drag, he shot popular travelogue shows, his own chat show, and then a documentary series, For The Love Of Dogs. He became a leading ambassador for animal welfare. He was performing as Mrs Harrigan in a touring production of Annie at the time of his death.

Kenneth Anger, 96

Avant-garde, Santa Monica-born gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger died May 11 of natural causes at an assisted living center in Yucca Valley, California. Anger released approximately 36 short, largely dialogue-free movies between 1941 and 2013. Many were packed with homoerotic imagery, including his best-known works: Fireworks (1947), Scorpio Rising (1963), and Lucifer Rising (1967). Scorpio Rising was chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in December 2022.

Besides an interest in the occult, Anger was also known for his love of gossip. He penned the notorious book Hollywood Babylon, revealing grubby Tinseltown scandals, in 1959. It was banned on its US release in 1965.

George Marharis, 94

Maharis was an actor and singer. Born and raised in New York City, he was best known for appearing in the first three seasons of Route 66 (1960-63), for which he picked up an Emmy nomination, and The Most Deadly Game (1970-71). He enjoyed moderate success on the Billboard charts in the early 1960s. In 1973, he was among the first male celebrities to pose for the centerfold of Playgirl. In later life, he concentrated on visual art. He died at his Beverly Hills home on May 24, 2023.

Charles Silverstein, 87

Dr. Charles Silverstein was a Ph.D. student in social psychology at Rutgers University when he did something for which he will always be remembered. He gave a persuasive, and humorous, talk to a panel of the American Psychiatric Association on why they should stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder.

The organization duly revised its classification later that year, helping to de-stigmatize homosexuality in the eyes of many.

It was far from the only thing Silverstein did to advance queer self-acceptance. He co-wrote The Joy of Gay Sex with the novelist Edmund White and A Family Matter: A Parents’ Guide to Homosexuality, among other books. He also served as founding editor of The Journal of Homosexuality.

Silverstein died January 30, from lung cancer, at his home in Manhattan.

Michael Leonard, 90

British artist Michael Leonard, renowned for his figurative work, portraiture and illustrations, died on July 28, aged 90.

Leonard studied Commercial Design and Illustration at St Martin’s College, London, in the 1950s. Afterward, he took up work as an illustrator. However, he soon began to develop his own, more personal body of work. Much of his work was homoerotic in nature, showing men at work or in a state of undress. He contributed images to the 1977 groundbreaking book, The Joy of Gay Sex.

That same year, he created what’s probably his best-known work: a portrait he painted of Queen Elizabeth II. The monarch, along with one of her beloved corgis, sat for Leonard. The resulting image is held at London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Darcelle XV, 92

Legendary drag performer Darcelle XV, otherwise known as Walter W. Cole Sr., died on March 23rd of natural causes. In 2016, the Guinness Book of Records referred to him as the oldest working drag queen in the world. For 50 years, he had presided over the Portland nightclub, Darcelle XV Showplace.

Before opening his venue, Cole worked in retail for Fred Mayer and then ran a beatnik-style cafe. He bought the Demas Tavern in 1967 and—at the age of 37—began to perform as Darcelle, encouraged by his life partner, fellow entertainer Roxy LeRoy Neuhardt. The venue was renamed after Cole’s drag persona in 1974. Back in 2010, Cole told The Oregonian how Darcelle saved him.

“If I hadn’t admitted who I was, I’d probably be dead now. I’d be sitting on a couch retiring from Fred Meyer management. Not for me.”

Maurice Hines, 80

Dancer, choreographer and actor Maurice Hines died on December 29th, two weeks after his 80th birthday. He was the older brother of the dancer Gregory Hines and starred alongside him in the 1984 movie, The Cotton Club.

Hines was a tap dancer extraordinaire. He made his Broadway debut in 1954 and had a long list of credits to his name. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1986 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for his role in Uptown…It’s Hot!

A 2020 documentary, Bring Them Back, explored Hines’ life and his sometimes difficult relationship with his sibling.

Murray Melvin, 90

Murray Melvin in 'Torchwood'

Murray Melvin was a British actor known for his work on screen and in theatre. He won a Cannes award in 1962 for playing Geoff, the gay best friend of lead character Jo in the seminal A Taste Of Honey. Melvin also appeared as Michael Caine’s male confidant in Alfie (1966), in Stanley Kubrick’s ​​Barry Lyndon (1975), and in several Ken Russell movies, including The Devils. He worked for many years at London’s Stratford East Theatre, and in his later years, became its archivist. He died on April 14th.

Seymour Stein, 80

Seymour Steinbigle, better known by the shortened surname Stein, was one of the most successful music industry executives of the late 70s, 80s and 90s. He co-founded Sire Records and was vice president of Warner Bros. Records.

Sire signed some of the biggest alternative acts of the time, including the Ramones and Talking Heads. However, Stein’s most notable signing was Madonna.

After his death from cancer in April, Madonna wrote on Instagram, “He was one of the most influential men in my Life! He changed and shaped my world … Not only did Seymour hear me but he saw me and my potential! For this, I will be eternally grateful!

“Anyone who knew Seymour knew about his passion for music and his impeccable taste. He had an ear like no other! He was intense, wickedly funny, a little bit crazy and deeply intuitive.”

Heklina, 54

Heklina was the stage name of the iconic, San Francisco-based drag performer, Stefan Grygelko. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He spent some time in the 1980s living in his mother’s homeland, Iceland and named his drag persona after Helka, one of the country’s many volcanoes.

Heklina founded and ran Trannyshack in 1996 (renamed Mother in 2017) which ran for many years and provided a platform for many upcoming drag stars. He also ​​ co-opened the San Francisco drag venue Oasis and acted in several theatre shows. He was active in San Francisco community events, such as the Folsom Street Fair and Pride. Heklina died in London, where he was due to perform a two-week run of shows alongside Peaches Christ.

Sinead O’Connor, 56

Irish singer Sinead O’Connor broke onto the music scene with the release of her debut album, The Lion and The Cobra in 1988. She went stratospheric with her 1990 cover of the Prince song, “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Such huge success took its toll on O’Connor, who was never able to scale those same commercial heights. However, she remained an iconic figure for many.

In a 2000 interview with Curve, O’Connor said she was a lesbian. However, she later retracted this, telling Entertainment Weekly in 2005, “I’m three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay.”

O’Connor was a champion for the marginalized and known for her support of LGBTQ rights. In the hours after her death in July of this year, a charity worker revealed how O’Connor had donated a large amount of her clothing to a charity that supported trans people in need.


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