Pepper LaBeija, 53; Queen of Drag Ball Scene in Harlem

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Pepper LaBeija, 53, a noted queen of the drag ball scene in Harlem who was featured in the 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning,” died May 14 of heart failure at a New York City hospital.

LaBeija, whose given name was William Jackson but, according to a New York Times obituary, preferred to be referred to by the feminine pronoun, was known for appearing and performing in gleaming feminine clothing at the balls. Over the years, LaBeija won as many as 250 trophies for her takes on high fashion.

LaBeija took her name from the “House of LaBeija,” which she led.

All those who performed as part of the group used the same surname.


“A house is a family for those who don’t have a family,” LaBeija said in “Paris Is Burning.”

LaBeija’s income came from teaching modeling and producing drag balls, an associate said. She led the House of LaBeija for 30 years, even while stricken with diabetes, for which she had to have both feet amputated.