Alexis Arquette, transgender activist and actress, dies at 47

Alexis Arquette, left, and Bel Air at a West Hollywood Comedy Store benefit show in 2006.
(Gregg DeGuire /

To hear her sister Patricia tell it, Alexis Arquette knew who she was before she even had words enough to express it.

“I remember Alexis growing up, and we'd be in school in kindergarten, and they'd say, ‘Get in line, boys here, girls here.’ Alexis would always get in the girls' line,” Patricia Arquette recounted to The Times in a 2008 interview. “I remember Alexis getting dressed in drag at 4.”

At first spurred by playground taunts, Alexis took her classmates at their word and assumed that she must be gay, until one day realizing, in Patricia’s words, “That's not what's different about me, it's not that I'm a gay man. It's that I'm in the wrong body: I am a woman.”

Transgender activist and actress Alexis Arquette died this morning surrounded by family, according to a Facebook post from brother Richmond Arquette and later confirmed by his agent. She was 47. 

The cause of death is unknown.

Born into the Arquette acting dynasty, including sisters Patricia and Rosanna and brothers Richmond and David, all of whom followed in the footsteps of their father,  Lewis, and grandfather Cliff, Alexis starred in several films, including “Bride of Chucky” and “The Wedding Singer.”

But acting was far from the only career that Alexis pursued throughout her life. She worked as an art director for clubs, performed as drag queen Eva Destruction and spent several years at Mattel as a toy designer, an experience that left her underwhelmed.

“We had some really great educational, interesting, fun new technological ideas. After a while, it just became so frustrating to me,” Alexis told The Times in a 1992 interview promoting her first starring role in “Jumpin at the Boneyard.” “They turned down our brilliant ideas for dumb pieces of junky plastic.”

It was this straightforward honesty that made Alexis Arquette such a powerful advocate for the transgender community.

In 2006, Alexis starred in the sixth season of “The Surreal Life,” a VH1 reality series that centered on the lives of a handful of faded celebrities focused on the next acts of their careers, while living together in a Hollywood Hills mansion. 

Her inclusion on the show raised transgender visibility in popular culture, a trend she continued with her participation in the 2007 documentary “Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother.”

The film focused on a year-and-a-half period in her life during which she, along with her family, processed her transition.

Having the last name Arquette benefited Alexis in more ways than one, as a trans woman, a fact that she acknowledged in an interview with “Entertainment Tonight” in 2009.

“Coming out as transgender in America from a celebrity family is a lot easier than it can be for private individuals anywhere else in the world,” Alexis said of her experience. “In fact, if you come out as transgender in certain parts of the world, you may be murdered in the street.”

In his announcement on his sister’s death on Facebook, Richmond wrote about feeling fortunate to share his life with Alexis, from whom he had learned so much.

With her family gathered around her, Alexis died just after midnight as David Bowie’s “Starman” played. As she transitioned to another dimension, her family cheered, as Alexis requested, according to Richmond’s statement.

In the early hours of the morning, Patricia tweeted a link to Bowie’s classic along with the words, “Breaking through the veil singing StarMan.”

Several hours earlier, Patricia had tweeted a link to the T. Rex song “Cosmic Dancer” with the message, “To My first best friend - Cosmic Dancer.”

Sunday afternoon, Patricia responded to her own tweet clarifying, “(My Lexy).”

Younger brother David also posted to Twitter regarding his sister’s death, saying, “Thank you all for your love and kind words about Alexis. My hero for eternity,” and sharing a photo of the pair.

Among the celebrities to respond to the news over social media were Boy George, Roseanne Barr and Elvira.

Throughout her life, Alexis labored to remain true to who she was, regardless of what package she was in.

“What difference does it make what container we're in? Am I who I am because I'm a woman? Or does it matter?” Alexis asked of her sister, in response to Patricia’s original questions about transitioning. “Am I who I am regardless of whether I'm a woman or a man? My package was born with blue eyes -- my package has a penis, or a vagina. Is that what it's about?”

Twitter: @midwestspitfire


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5:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.