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Arts & Entertainment

Longtime SF drag legend Heklina found dead in London

From left to right: D’Arcy Drollinger (Rose Nyland), Matthew Martin (Blanche Devereaux), Holotta Tymes (Sophia Petrillo) and Heklina (Dorothy Zbornak) are the Golden Girls. | Photo courtesy of Ash Danielsen

Heklina, the longtime drag performer who rose to fame in the 1990s and threw the edgy and long-running drag show Trannyshack (later Mother) before co-opening SoMa drag club Oasis, has reportedly died in London.

Collaborator and fellow San Francisco drag legend Peaches Christ, also known as Joshua Grannell, had been co-starring with Heklina in a production of their drag parody, Mommie Queerest, at Soho Theatre. Grannell posted to Facebook on Monday that he went to pick Heklina up where she had been staying and found her dead.

“I know this is shocking news and I am beyond stunned, but I wanted to let folks know what has happened,” Grannell wrote, on both Peaches Christ’s and his personal pages. “Heklina is not just my best friend, but a beloved icon of our community. I am a mess.”

The theater later confirmed Heklina’s passing. No cause of death has been determined.

While San Francisco has produced its fair share of nationally recognized drag icons over the decades, perhaps no one was as closely affiliated with the city’s underground queer nightlife for as long. Long before drag achieved anything like its current mainstream popularity, the acid-tongued and self-deprecating Heklina, born Stefan Grygelko, dominated San Francisco’s alternative zeitgeist—at venues like The EndUp but particularly at the city’s much-missed queer bar, The Stud.

After several gonzo appearances on late-1990s talk shows, Heklina’s star rose enough that she worked with luminaries like Margaret Cho and Go-Go’s musician Jane Wiedlin. Among many other productions over the years, Heklina was perhaps most widely known to contemporary San Francisco audiences as Dorothy Zbornak in annual holiday re-creations of The Golden Girls.

She had relocated to Palm Springs in late 2019, but continued to make regular working appearances in San Francisco, including at Daytime Realness, a popular monthly party that she cohosted at famed Mission bar El Rio. She had performed there for the season opener on March 18.

This is a developing story.

Astrid Kane can be reached at