Holly Woodlawn, a trailblazing trans entertainer who emerged in the early 1970s as one of Andy Warhol’s most dynamic superstars and who inspired a verse of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” has died in Los Angeles at age 69 after a long battle with cancer.
Joe Dallesandro, another great Warhol performer who appeared with Woodlawn in the groundbreaking 1970 dramedy Trash, announced the passing of his friend and former costar with a message posted to his Facebook account.
He later revealed that Woodlawn died in his arms as he read messages he’d collected for her from friends and fans.
Woodlawn, who reportedly considered gender reassignment surgery in 1969, was a singular entertainer. Her impact in Trash was so significant that no less than legendary director George Cukor petitioned the Motion Picture Academy to nominate her for an Oscar for her work in the film.
Unfortunately, the movie’s success didn’t lead to many other parts for her. She later established herself as a popular cabaret performer, however. Her memoir, A Low Life in High Heels, was published in 1991 and offered a rollicking account of her colorful life. At one point the book was reportedly optioned to become a film, with Madonna said to have expressed interest in portraying another trans icon, the late Candy Darling. Woodlawn appeared in the pop singer’s video for her 1992 hit “Deeper and Deeper.”
In addition to inspiring countless other trans performers, perhaps Woodlawn’s most enduring legacy is the memorable first verse in the Reed classic:
Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.
Filmmaker Mike Stabile, acclaimed for Seed Money, a riveting doc about vintage gay porn director Chuck Holmes, is currently working on a documentary of Woodlawn.
In October, Stabile said Woodlawn was one of the last “trailblazers who didn’t give a f*ck what society thought.”