Foul play not suspected in Heklina's death

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Friday April 7, 2023
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Heklina performed her final show at Oasis before moving to Palm Springs — "Mother -The Final" — on February 8, 2020. Photo: Gooch
Heklina performed her final show at Oasis before moving to Palm Springs — "Mother -The Final" — on February 8, 2020. Photo: Gooch

Drag star Heklina apparently did not die of assault or foul play, according to a post mortem conducted by London officials, her good friend Peaches Christ wrote on Facebook April 6.

Heklina, whose given name was Stefan Grygelko, died unexpectedly in her flat in London April 3, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. She was 55. She and Peaches were in London to perform their show, "Mommie Queerest," and shared the flat.

Peaches (Joshua Grannell) wrote that she is returning to the U.S. In the meantime, a joint statement was issued April 7 by her, Oasis co-owner D'Arcy Drollinger, and Grygelko's estate. Heklina had been a part-owner in Oasis, the LGBTQ nightclub and cabaret venue in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood.

"Heklina had been present in London with Peaches Christ, where they were preparing to perform their stage show 'Mommie Queerest' for audiences in London and Manchester," according to the joint statement posted on the Facebook page of Oasis.

"London's Metropolitan Police were called to their residence in SoHo by the London Ambulance Service at 9:47 a.m. local time, where Heklina was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead," the statement read.

"On April 6th, 2023, Heklina's loved ones learned findings were issued by local authorities that there is no sign of foul play in Heklina's death. The autopsy has not yet been conducted and the cause of death is not yet known," the statement continued.

Heklina was a pioneering figure in the San Francisco drag scene and an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ lives, the statement explained. She was the co-founder of the iconic and transgressive drag night Trannyshack, which became an important mainstay of the San Francisco nightlife scene in the 1990s and 2000s.

The statement added that Heklina's "work as a producer and performer included collaborations on stage and on film, with one of her best friends Peaches Christ. Heklina's accomplishments as a performer, producer, and transgressive LGBTQ+ rights advocate have left an indelible mark on drag, the entertainment industry, San Francisco, and the queer communities worldwide."

Heklina's sudden death prompted an outpouring of support in the Bay Area and around the world. In her own statement she emailed to supporters of Oasis April 4, Drollinger called Heklina's passing "a devastating blow to the community" that was personally heartbreaking.

"I have known Heklina for 34 years. Opening the Oasis was a crowning achievement we shared, after performing for so many years in other people's venues, to create our own space was a dream neither of us believed we could do and yet we did it together," wrote Drollinger. "She's been my Carrie Bradshaw, my Janet Wood, my Darlene Conner, my Phoebe Buffay, and my Dorothy Zbornak. Heklina could push all my buttons and at times make me crazy and I still love her."

Drollinger added, "I was there the very first time she ever did drag, it wasn't a pretty sight. In my wildest dreams I wouldn't have expected her to become such an icon. And yet she did."

Fellow drag queen Sister Roma wrote on her Twitter account that she was "absolutely devastated" to learn of the passing of her friend and collaborator for two-plus decades.

"She is one of the funniest people I've ever known. This is a nightmare," wrote Roma, a member of the drag philanthropy group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in a tweet.

A memorial service is being planned and details are forthcoming. Heklina will also be remembered and honored at the "Drag Up! Fight Back!" march and rally being held in San Francisco Saturday, April 8, to protest the legislative attacks against drag performers, transgender individuals, and LGBTQ rights happening in statehouses across the country.

The day will start with a rally at 11 a.m. on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place. From there, participants will march to Union Square where there will be performances and remarks from a host of local leaders and drag performers.

"The rise in extreme anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and the laws rapidly evolving around them across the United States from far-right extremists is ugly and unrelenting," stated co-organizer Juanita MORE! "Their message is poisonous and a sideshow to distract from more pressing issues. As the haters continue to show their faces in our government, on the news, and in social media, we must continue to show ours."

In accordance with Heklina's wishes, Grygelko's estate encourages those who wish to remember Heklina, to support their favorite queer organization and/or the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.

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