Holly Woodlawn, transgender superstar of Warhol films, dies at 69

Holly Woodlawn, the transgender actress who was made famous by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey in their 1970s films "Trash" and "Women in Revolt," has died.

Woodlawn died Sunday in Los Angeles after a battle with cancer, said her former caretaker and friend Mariela Huerta. She was 69.

Born Harold Danhakl, she took the name Holly Woodlawn after running away from home at the age of 15 and hitchhiking to New York City, where she became one of Warhol's drag queen superstars. Her story was immortalized in the first lines of the Lou Reed song "Walk on the Wild Side."

It began: "Holly came from Miami, F.L.A. Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A. Plucked her eyebrows on the way. Shaved her legs and then he was a she. She says, 'Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side.'"

Woodlawn received critical acclaim for her film roles, but she couldn't find mainstream success. Her cult status helped her make a comeback in such 1990s independent films as "Twin Falls Idaho" and "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss." More recently, she appeared in the TV comedy "Transparent."

Her Warhol days were indeed wild, she said later. She said she took cocaine and amphetamines and claimed to have been at Studio 54 in New York on opening night — and to have stayed for five years.

But unlike her cohorts of the Warhol era, Woodlawn sought to put her days of hard living behind her. The late 1990s found her studying to become a fashion designer in Los Angeles and advocating moderation.

Her life by then was described as quiet: "If you're out all night, you look horrible, you can't go to work and you become a mess," she said.

She remained a presence on the Los Angeles scene after her national profile faded. She raised money for AIDS Project Los Angeles, performed in neighborhood theater productions and did occasional film cameos. In 1997, a Times critic singled her out as the best of the performers in an otherwise slightly ragged campy sendup called "Christmas With the Crawfords" at the Hudson Backstage.

As Joan Crawford, she was "admirably focused and committed," the critic wrote, "making Crawford all the more frightening — and hilarious."

Woodlawn wrote the 1991 autobiography "A Low Life in High Heels: The Holly Woodlawn Story." In later years, she turned up at retrospectives and signed autographs at clubs such as "Gossip" at Revolver in West Hollywood as her movies played on large screens overhead.

Of her time as a Warhol superstar, she told the British newspaper 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 2 seconds and that was it. But it was worth it, the drugs, the parties, it was fabulous." She didn't get to know Reed until after his song about her was released, she said.

Huerta said Woodlawn had no survivors.

news.obits@latimes.com

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A version of this article appeared in print on December 08, 2015, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "HOLLY WOODLAWN, 1946 ¿ 2015 - Warhol's transgender star" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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