Matthew Simmons April 28, 1960-Sept. 8, 2020: healer, social worker, musician, was also known as drag performer Peggy L'Eggs
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Matthew Simmons, known to many as his drag persona Peggy L'Eggs, died peacefully and unexpectedly on Tuesday, September 8 at his Oakland apartment. He was 60.
Simmons is survived by his brothers Stanley Cary Simmons, Chris Ian Simmons, nine beloved nieces and nephews, one great-niece, and sister-in-law Melissa VanGrundy-Simmons.
Born in Queens, New York City, his family later moved several times; to Iowa, St. Paul, MN, Charlotteseville, NC, then Weisenberg, Germany, Charleywood, England, to Oakville, Ontario, then Prior Lake, MN.
In the late '70s, in high school, he joined Up With People and toured with the singing group.
"He could still wear his Up With People blue polyester flared-leg jumpsuit through all his days," said close friend John Harry 'Cayenne' Bonck.
Before he became known to Bay Area drag and theatre fans as Peggy L'Eggs, in the 1980s, Simmons worked in the then-growing somatic healing movement. He led workshops throughout the world with Joseph Kramer's Body Electric gay men's erotic health and spirituality practice.
"Matthew Simmons was a somatic genius," wrote Kramer in an email. "He created the life he wished to live by regulating his body through movement, breath, and sexual arousal. He was an effective, embodied magician. As I was moving on from Body Electric in 1992, Matthew had taken on the role of sacred intimate, making himself available to pleasure men who were dying. After one of his sessions, he told me, 'I just fucked AIDS.'"
Longtime friend Don Shewey was another associate of the Body Electric School.
"Matthew's vivacious energy was the perfect doorway for many people to enter the realm of advanced erotic embodiment through breath work and Taoist erotic massage," he wrote. "Matthew developed an extraordinary capacity for being with people ecstatically as they returned to spirit, a very valuable skill in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. [His death is] one more breathtaking loss in this devastating time. But anyone who ever came in contact with this rambunctious creature has fun memories they will treasure forever."
During the 1990s, Matthew worked with the Body Electric school and was a massage and spiritual therapist. He began he performance career in San Francisco at the 848 Divisadero Performance Space, with his piece "Midwife to the Dying," which contextualized his erotic energy work with men dying from AIDS for a larger audience.
A Star is Born
Matthew interrupted his time in San Francisco to move to Toronto in 1998, where he first began performative drag as Peggy L'Eggs. He entered and placed in his first drag show, a Diana Ross contest, and developed his wet dead fish and seaweed performance of the Titanic theme, "My Heart Will Go On," which was repeated at many events in San Francisco over the years.
A program bio lists his Björk drag number at the legendary Trannyshack (at The Stud) in 1998 as his first San Francisco performance.
Viva Variety producer Steve Murray says that Simmons was part of the inspiration for Viva Variety and appeared in its first production as Peggy L'Eggs in San Francisco on April 19, 1999. He went on to perform in 33 Viva shows over the next six years, including performing a pas de deux as a one-legged ballerina, a Southern beauty pageant contestant, Miss Narcolepsy and several dozen other characters.
From 1999 until his death, Matthew performed in virtually every drag venue in San Francisco, doing corporate appearances as Peggy L'Eggs as well as serious Panto theatre during Christmas seasons.
Simmons appeared with Matthew Martin in a two-woman show titled Boys 2 Broadz that ran at Theatre Rhinoceros from October 1999 to January 2000.
He performed in many Bay Area theatre works in the 1990s, and later in Seth Eisen's Homo File at CounterPulse in 2012 and 2014, playing multiple roles of photographer George Platt Lynes, leather daddy Chuck Renslow, a French maid, and the show's music conductor/sailor.
But it was his drag performances that most recall. As a member of the drag rock band Pepperspray, keyboardist and singer Simmons co-performed rousing covers of songs by diverse bands, ranging from Nirvana to Garbage and David Bowie.
Drag parodies were also part of his extensive career, including costarring in comic adaptations of Absolutely Fabulous, Harry Poofter, and The Facts of Life, which were produced at SF Oasis. Simmons also costarred in ThrillPeddlers' Club Inferno, Peter Fogel's rock musical loosely based on Dante's Inferno.
Simmons also performed in numerous shows produced by Peaches Christ, including Clueless, Femlins, Legally Black and other productions. Simmons also portrayed 'Glen or Glenda the Witch' in a trailer for Frameline's 39th annual LGBTQ film festival and in Peaches' drag parody, The Wizard of Odd.
As Peggy L'Eggs, Simmons was known for his spontaneity as well. According to dancer and video producer Andrew Slade, during a performance of Peaches Christ's live drag parody before a screening of Addams Family Values, Simmons, as camp counselor Becky Granger, scolded a noisy drunk audience member at the Castro Theatre, all while staying in character.
Of Simmons' performances, artist/director Seth Eisen wrote, "He hit every mark and brought down the house always going further than all the way. At the Castro Theater, he accompanied Rufus Wainwright on piano in 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' which was magical and seizure-inducing. Afterwards, he grabs his keyboard underarm, hops off stage, parts the sea of people, exits out the front door and jumps into a cab in one breath. Snap! Epic. That was Peggy. She had to have the last word."
"I asked Peggy to join Pepperspray based on her keyboard skills and diverse performance background," wrote composer-musician Peter Fogel. "She was always such a great supporting musician and had the chops to conquer any musical genre. But when she sang lead on her chosen cover songs....watch out! She brought down the house every time. I believe her slaying of Nirvana's 'Smell Like Teen Spirit' at the Gay Pride main stage in 2003 cinched the deal for Bill Graham Presents offering Pepperspray the opening slot for Cher two months later.
"Peggy was a highly-creative force in Pepperspray, dreaming up such ingenious mash-ups such as 'Push It' by Garbage paired with 'Push It' by Salt and Peppa (always a crowd-pleaser) as well as ingenious renditions of Talking Head's 'Psycho Killer' and Sex Pistol's 'Pretty Vacant.'"
Fogel said that Pepperspray's main run was from 2002 to 2007 (five years). They also had three reunion shows in 2010 and in 2015 with a farewell show in 2016 at DNA Lounge / Bootie.
"I was overjoyed when Russell Blackwood cast Peggy in the lead role of Dante for the Thrillpeddler's 2015 / 2016 production of my and Kelly Kittell's rock musical Club Inferno, added Fogel. "Peggy brought the perfect balance of bravado and vulnerability to the role and her rubber face provided much of the laughs and audience insight the the lead required. Peggy's journey and character inhabitation as Dante were impossible not to love."
Peggy was also cast as Dr. Karen/Oopsie in the remount of Fogel and Kittell's Cyberotica! at Oasis in 2017. A natural comedienne, Peggy brought a measured-but-manic energy to the stage for a comedic death scene as well as a playful comic spirit to her transformation as a tele-tubby baby.
In addition to performing, Peggy created band graphics and fliers, web design, costumes, wigs, provided drag lessons (to newbies) and even sewed unique satin pillows for band members.
"Peggy was a giver and was good and everything she did," wrote Fogel. "I will forever remember her showing up to rehearsals fully prepared, always with an iced coffee in tow."
Actor-writer and director Michael Phillis also offered his tribute on Facebook, writing, "Mama Peggy L'Eggs was punk rock onstage. When the lights went up and the crowd started reacting, the best-laid plans from rehearsal went out the window. She was a livewire, feeding off the crowd energy, spastic and hilarious, bigger and brasher than queens half her age. You just never could quite predict what she might say or do. It's what made her so fun to watch & so nerve-wracking as a scene partner!
"She brought it all to every moment. And before, during, and after every single show, with every single person, she was kind, generous and welcoming. She would finish your sentences before you could. She was so excited to laugh with you. She never let a conversation go by without at least one or two laughs. And if she wasn't in the show, you better believe she'd bust backstage, whether you invited her or not, to drop off packages of Lindor truffles for the cast to share. Quite simply, there will never be another like her."
"I've had the extreme pleasure of working with Peggy consistently for over twenty years and I cannot fathom a world without her," wrote Peaches Christ in an email. "She was more than a muse and friend for me. She was immediate-chosen-family. This is really tough. I keep going back to pictures of her as "Glen or Glinda The Good Witch" from our Wizard of Odd show and the Frameline39 trailer because her portrayal of a goofy and clueless "Good Witch" is quintessential Peggy. She truly was the sweetest, and kindest witch in all of Oz."
Simmons also had a wide-ranging talent in visual arts, including costuming, needlepoint, knitting, crocheting and drawing.
Making a difference
Since 2010, Simmons worked as a Care Navigator with The Shanti Project.
"Matthew touched so many lives, and his love and dedication to his clients were remarkable," Shanti representatives wrote in a Facebook. "Matthew went above and beyond in honoring the lives of his clients, and we will do the same for him. The world is a little less compassionate and warm today, and as we remember Matthew's tremendous kindness, sense of humor, and, of course, sartorial splendor, we hold him close in our hearts."
"The first time I heard about Shanti was in 1984, when I was living in Minnesota, and the first cases of AIDS had just started impacting the community," said Simmons in a Shanti informational video recorded July 9, 2020. "What I've noticed in my journey with Shanti and everything that has led up to this moment in my life, is how to show up for people without judging, without fixing, without changing, without needing them to be anything other than who they are. One person can make a difference, however that person shows up."
"Matthew felt very deeply," said longtime friend Stephen LeBlanc. "He was the truest shaman I've known. He gave of his gifts to everyone who encountered him, but at times carried the burden of his empathy."
Simmons was also active in the Billys and Radical Faerie communities.
Eisen had spent time with Simmons only days ago, and wrote, "A week before he passed, we went on an amazing walk in the Morcom Rose Garden in Oakland. We camped it up and ate fried chicken and laughed our asses off remembering all of the years and stories and doing campy poses next to the roses. It was like a life review. He was so proud of his recent series of drawings about his hand surgery he was about to undergo. I hope we get to exhibit those images. They are gorgeous like his heart. Everyone should see how this angel could take any affliction or hardship and turn it into a life-giving gift."
Some members of Matthew's family hosted a preliminary memorial Sunday, Sept 13 at the San Francisco Wave Organ in the Marina, with dozens of Simmons' friends attending.
An online memorial, hosted by Peaches Christ, Heklina and Oasis, will take place Saturday, Sept. 26, 5pm PST on Oasis' Twitch channel at http://www.twitch.tv/sfoasis
Facebook invite page
Donation's in his honor can be made to The Shanti Project. http://www.shanti.org/matthew-simmons