Holly Woodlawn, Miami-Raised Warhol Superstar, Dies at 69

The neighborhood Holly Woodlawn grew up in was, for this past week during Art Basel Miami Beach, the epicenter of the world's art scene. But back in the '60s, Woodlawn didn't see much of a future for herself there. So at 15 years old she decided to drop out of high school, hitch hike up to New York, and remake herself. The journey is famously chronicled in the first verse of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." 

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.

After a career that not only included inspiring Reed's biggest hit, but infamy as one of Andy Warhol's "Superstars," Woodlawn passed away last night at the age of 69 in Hollywood, California. 

Born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl in Puerto Rico, Woodlawn moved with her family to Miami Beach as a child. 

"When I was younger, I was extremely shy and living in what's now Miami Beach," Woodlawn told the Guardian in 2007. "My father had a nice job. I guess we were middle income. I had good schools. I just was unhappy because I didn't know who I was. I didn't associate with the other kids in school, the suburban-minded ones. Plus I came out very young ... that's where I really came out, on 21st Street in Miami Beach."

"I was 15 years old and failing at high school in Miami Beach because I was too busy partying," she said. "I was supposed to go to summer school to catch up and really didn't want to, so I joined some of these Cuban queens to go to New York. I hocked some jewelry and we made it all the way to Georgia, where the money ran out and we had to hitchhike the rest of the way."

Woodlawn spent time living on the streets, but eventually met a man and he lived as his wife in Brooklyn for a number of years. When the relationship ended, Woodlawn soon found herself back on New York's nightlife and art circuit. She performed in underground plays and eventually landed what was supposed to be a small part in the Andy Warhol produced film Trash in 1972. She impressed the film's director so much that she eventually became the lead. 

Famed Hollywood director George Cukor started a write-in campaign to get Woodlawn nominated for an Academy Award. The effort ended in confusion over whether she should be nominated for Best Actress or Best Actor. 

Woodlawn would then become part of Warhol's entourage of "superstars," and starred in another of the director's films, Women in Revolt, alongside other transgender actresses Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis. 

"I was very happy when I gradually became a Warhol superstar," she told the Guardian. "I felt like Elizabeth Taylor! Little did I realize 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!"

That star would indeed only flicker briefly. By the end of the '70s, she briefly returned to Miami where she lived as a man and worked as a busser at Benihana. However, she reestablished herself as a nightclub singer and cabaret act during the '80s and had returned to parts in independent films in the '90s. She still continued to enchant the art world. She performed at the W during Art Basel 2011 and was the subject of an art exhibition of portraits in London in 2007. 

Her health took a turn for a worse over the summer. She battled brain and liver cancer Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for nearly six months before passing away yesterday.


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