South Beach Drag Legend Wanda Shot Dead in Streets of Tampa
Standing an imposing 6'6" (and even taller in heels), the legendary drag icon Wanda had been stomping through South Beach like it was her personal runway since its '90s heyday. She was at one point perhaps the most polarizing and controversial figure in South Beach nightlife.
A master at throwing shade and saying whatever was on her mind, Wanda occupied a special place in Florida's drag community -- a fact made sadly apparent when she was gunned down at the age of 49 this past Tuesday in an apparently random and unsolved act of violence.
Wanda, whose real name was Anthony Jerome Lee, was visiting a friend's house in Tampa. She was busy cooking dinner when she heard a knock at the door. When she answered, she was greeted by five bullets.
The case remains a mystery, and police believe Wanda might have been a victim of mistaken identity. So far, a suspected getaway car has been recovered.
Only a life so colorful and lived so large can outshine such a shocking end.
Born in Tampa, Wanda got her start as a performer in the Gulf Coast city before relocating to South Beach in the '90s. She was a regular entertainer at the legendary Sunday gay nights at the original club Amnesia. Her onstage antics were plentiful, according to reports: entering the stage from the rafters, wearing dresses made of tampons, and covering her face in baby powder while lip-syncing to her idol Whitney Houston.
"I've thrown people in fountains, I've pulled women's breasts out, I've ruined people's clothes," she once told this paper. "I'm a comedian. Don't sit in the front row if you don't want to be picked on. I'm different. There's nobody on the Beach like me."
She had become so notorious that in 1998, as chronicled by New Times, a flier was sent to club owners by an anonymous "concerned citizen" crowning Wanda the "most undesirable element of South Beach!"
"I have been barred from every fucking club on the Beach," she told us at the time. "But I always get back in."
For the past few years, the performer had been alternating her time among South Florida, Tampa, and other cities, and always had friends to stay with.
In the media, both social and traditional, friends from all corners of the drag world remembered the fallen queen.
Miami drag mainstay Tiffany Fantasia told the Miami Herald that Wanda was "the only person I know banned from practically every club in South Beach and coming back like nothing had happened.
"She would always get into a fight. I remember one time she was at Twist. I don't remember the details, but it involved a Bud Light and a bottle going over somebody's head. Security walked her out. The next thing, security was on the floor, and she got up and walked away, her wig in her hand."
Power Infinti, also known as Dale Wilson, shared his memories of Wanda with the Tampa Bay Times:
Wilson was new to the drag scene and was walking down Washington Avenue in South Beach when he passed Wanda, who was out of drag at that point.
Wanda started laughing -- just laughing -- at Wilson.
"She thought I looked a mess," Wilson recalled. "And, yeah, I had just started, so I probably did look a hot mess. But when a drag queen starts out, you can't tell her she doesn't look fabulous."
As Wilson got to know Wanda more, their sharp-tongued personalities somehow meshed. They became close friends.
Ultimately, friends seemed to love Wanda for her fierce loyalty and honesty, even when they might not want to have heard it.