Blaze Starr dies at 83; stripper known for affair with Gov. Earl Long

 Blaze Starr dies at 83; stripper known for affair with Gov. Earl Long
Blaze Starr in the 1950s; her affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl Long was the basis for the movie "Blaze," starring Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich. (Hulton Archive, Getty Images)

Blaze Starr, a burlesque icon and stripper whose affair with a colorful Louisiana governor was the basis for a Hollywood movie, has died at the age of 83.

Starr died Monday at her home in West Virginia, said her nephew Earsten Spaulding. She had experienced heart problems in recent years.


Born Fannie Belle Fleming in Wayne County, W. Va., Starr long performed at the Two O'Clock Club in Baltimore, earning her the nickname "The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque."

Starr, however, became better known for what happened when she landed at the Sho-Bar club in New Orleans, where she famously had an affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long, who served in the 1940s and 1950s.

Gus Weill, one of Louisiana's first political consultants, who got his start in politics in the 1960s, said Starr was a knockout beauty who gave New Orleans glamour. He did not know her personally.

"They had the romance and history, and she added a good dollop of glamour," Weill said about her contribution to New Orleans. "She was a wonderful dancer and much loved."

Ted Jones, 81, a former aide to Long, said the governor's affair was the reflection of "a 60-year-old man trying to reinvent his life."

Jones said the open affair lasted from 1959 until Long's death in September 1960, but didn't appear to mar Long's legacy — although it served as political chum for his opponents

"Of course, Ms. Blanche (Long's wife) didn't like her, but that was beside the point," Jones said. "It didn't mar his legacy; it demonstrated that old men have a flair for nice women."

Jones recalled the last time he saw Long was right after the former governor had secured a congressional seat in 1960. He was sitting on the edge of a bed at the Bentley Hotel in Alexandria, La., with his arm around Starr.

"Personal misbehaviors on the part of male politicians were not an unusual thing," said Alecia P. Long, a history professor at Louisiana State University. She is not related to the Long political family. But she added that Long was a "particular case because he was so open about it."

The flamboyant stripper also claimed she had slept with John F. Kennedy before he won the presidency.

Starr later migrated more toward comedy acts when she bought the Two O'Clock Club.

Filmmaker John Waters, a Baltimore native who celebrated the city's weirdness in movies such as "Pink Flamingos," said he watched Starr's shows as a teenager, though he never met her. He said her wardrobe was a major influence on Divine, the cross-dressing actor who starred in several of Waters' movies.

"Other boys my age were at football games and the Orioles and the Colts, but I was thinking about Blaze Starr, and not in an erotic way, either," Waters said. "Just from a showbiz point of view, I respected her deeply."

So did the city. During the height of her popularity, she led parades, cheered for the Orioles, Colts and Bullets, presided over bicycle races and gave disabled Vietnam veterans a free show at her club. The American Legion gave her awards for humanitarianism.


"For a while, she was the only famous person Baltimore had," Waters said. "I still think she was the best tourist attraction that Baltimore ever had."

Starr, who was born April 10, 1932, and grew up in West Virginia's coal fields, co-authored her autobiography in 1974. The book was adapted 15 years later into the movie "Blaze," starring Paul Newman as Earl Long and Lolita Davidovich as Starr.

Spaulding recalled his aunt as caring, sentimental and a character.

She made many of her elaborate burlesque outfits, was a fan of hunting mushrooms and ginseng and quickly picked up how to play the banjo, he said.

"She was talented at anything she wanted to do," he said.

Jacques Kelly and Chris Kaltenbach write for the Baltimore Sun. The Associated Press contributed to this story.