Holly Woodlawn, one of the most famous figures to emerge from Andy Warhol’s inner circle of artistic outcasts, is dead at the age of 69 due to complications relating to brain and liver cancer.
Holly was one of the most iconic of the misfits who made up Andy’s starmaker machine in late 60s and 70s New York City. Woodlawn was even on the famous Warhol roll call track “Walk On The Wild Side” by The Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed, alongside fellow gender-bending women of the Factory days, Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis.
“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
Said, ‘Hey, honey, take a walk on the wild side'”
Born in Puerto Rico as Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl, and raised in Miami Beach, Woodlawn decided at very young age that she wanted to live her life as a woman. Failing out of high school due to excessive partying, a 15-year-old Holly sold all of her jewelry and took a chance trying to land herself in NYC, where she would eventually get her big break. Speaking with The Guardian in 2007, Woodlawn described her awe-struck reaction to finally reaching the city.
“It was 1962. Marilyn had just died. I lived on the streets like everyone does when they run away. I met some girlfriends who took me in and we found a place in Queens. I was really lucky. I met this guy who fell in love with me and asked me to be his girlfriend. I started taking hormones for a sex-change and lived as his wife, working in the days as a clothing model at Saks Fifth Avenue. Oh, the things I did! And for six or seven years they never knew I was a boy. Not a clue!”
Holly’s foot in the transgender world caught her enough attention to ease into the crowd frequenting Warhol’s Factory in that time period. Eventually, she was noticed enough to become one of the regulars and even a famed “Warhol Superstar.” Woodlawn described the time as a whirlwind of temporary notoriety, she told The Guardian.
“I was very happy when I gradually became a Warhol superstar. I felt like Elizabeth Taylor! Little did I realise that not only would there be no money, but that your star would flicker for two seconds and that was it. But it was worth it, the drugs, the parties, it was fabulous. You live in a hovel, walk up five flights, scraping the rent. And then at night you go to Max’s Kansas City where Mick Jagger and Fellini and everyone’s there in the back room. And when you walked in that room, you were a STAR!”
Perhaps the culmination of Holly’s career lies in her starring role in the sex and intravenous drug use film Trash directed by Paul Morrissey. Woodlawn starred as the girlfriend of Joe Dallesandro, who sits sexually frustrated in their apartment while her junkie boyfriend roams the city look for his fix. While the film was far from a critical darling, it was the furthest Holly’s star power spread. George Cukor and a small group of other Hollywood notables campaigned for her to nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
[Warning: The following video contains graphic language.]
After that, Holly’s career mostly consisted of stage roles and appearance in Women in Revolt!, another Warhol-era classic. In 1970, Woodlawn made headlines for stealing the passport and checkbook of the French ambassador’s wife and subsequently being taken to the women’s jail, then moved to the men’s ward on further investigation, according to the book Superstar in a Housedress.
During the final weeks of her life, friends and admirers sought to raise money for medical bills to keep Holly fighting death. More than $67,000 was raised, some of it from former Andy Warhol notables.
“Many people have commented that they are waiting to see Caitlin Jenner, LaVern Cox or one of the other high profile transgendered people with high profile step up to call attention to Woodlawn’s situation forgetting that most Hollywood people live far away from the reality of renegades like Holly and probably have not yet heard of Woodlawn’s situation and may not.
“The truth is Holly Woodlawn is beyond theory and always has been…she lived her politics on the street with her body not on a velour couch with 8 people who took the same Gender studies class as her!”
[Image via Kevin Winter/Getty Images]