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Drag legend Heklina to be honored at massive SF memorial

Heklina, flanked by former state Sen. Mark Leno, state Sen. Scott Wiener and Honey Mahogany, in 2017. | Liz Hafalia/The SF Chronicle via Getty Images

Heklina, the raunchy, viper-tongued and widely beloved drag legend who died suddenly early last week, will be remembered with a memorial service next month at the Castro Theatre, whose marquee had paid tribute to her passing.

Her friend and colleague Joshua Grannell, better known by his drag moniker Peaches Christ, will lead the event at the Castro on May 23, along with D’Arcy Drollinger, who co-founded the SoMa drag club Oasis with Heklina nearly a decade ago, and actor and performer Nancy French.

“The evening will be a celebration in remembrance of the many facets of Heklina's life,” Grannell posted to Facebook on Wednesday, shortly before the registration filled up completely. “Join us for performances, stories and more from Heklina's friends ... and maybe some frenemies.”

Known for an alternative style of drag that junked lip-syncing and strict female impersonation for punk comedy and edgy, late-night musical numbers, Heklina had been a fixture in San Francisco for decades, as the host of the long-running drag shows Trannyshack and Mother, and as Dorothy Zborak in live reenactments of The Golden Girls. 

Although not technically a funeral service, LGBTQ+ events of this nature tend to dispense with the traditional ethics and dress codes that people adhere to when paying their respects. Put differently, anyone who ever worked with Heklina or enjoyed her work is positively going to slay. 

When pioneering LGBTQ+ rights figure José Sarria, also known as Absolute Empress I of the San Francisco Imperial Court and the Widow Norton, died in 2013 at age 91, the Bay Area’s entire queer firmament turned out in high mourning garb at Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill. Given Heklina’s influence on drag as an art form since the early 1990s and the 1,400-seat Castro Theatre’s symbolic importance to the LGBTQ+ community, this memorial has the potential to nearly shut down the neighborhood.

Heklina had relocated to Palm Springs several years ago. Her death, which came while she and Grannell were in London with a touring production of their drag parody, Mommie Queerest, was determined not to be the result of foul play. She was 55.

The memorial will be free, with reservations. A post-memorial tribute will take place at Oasis.

Update: This post has been updated to reflect that the event has already sold out.

Heklina: A Memorial

📍 Castro Theatre, SF
🗓️ Tuesday, May 23 | 7 p.m.
🎟️ Free