A beloved San Francisco drag legend, club owner, and pillar of the local nightlife community has reportedly passed away. Heklina, a.k.a. Stefan Grygelko, was on tour in London with friend and longtime collaborator Peaches Christ, and Peaches reported the news on Facebook.
"I am shocked and horrified to bring this news to you," Peaches writes. "I am living in a real-life nightmare so forgive me if I don’t have all the answers just now. This morning, in London, England I went to collect my dear friend Heklina, who is costarring with me in a Mommie Queerest show here, and found her dead."
Peaches, a.k.a. Joshua Grannell, was preparing to do the drag sendup of Mommie Dearest that she and Heklina have performed in San Francisco multiple times, in a two-week run at London's Soho Theatre. The theater has subsequently reposted the news of Heklina's passing, saying "we will be in contact with audiences from tomorrow."
No cause of death is yet known, and Peaches said only, "I am utterly heartbroken, stunned, and focusing on what needs to get done next. I shall be in touch."
Born in the U.S. but raised partly in Iceland, Grygelko came to San Francisco in the early 1990s, first working as a barback and bartender at The Stud in SoMa. It was from there and The EndUp that Heklina would help launch multiple club nights, including Trannyshack, which would become an institution lasting over a decade with weekly performances on Tuesdays at midnight.
The club launched the drag careers of many local stars, and played host to the likes of Lady Gaga (in 2008), Charro, and Ana Matronic.
Heklina took Trannyshack to bigger venues and made it monthly, and ultimately changed the name of the club in 2014 to Mother, amid greater sensitivity in the broader queer community over the once-tongue-in-cheek name.
"I generally loathe to be political, but whether I like it or not the very name of my legendary nightclub has become political," Heklina said at the time.
Along with partner D'Arcy Drollinger and other partners, Heklina opened the SoMa nightclub Oasis in 2015, but she sold her share of the business four years ago.
Heklina remained one of the most seasoned and funny comedy queens on the San Francisco scene, and continued hosting parties and performing here after relocating to Palm Springs, more or less full time, in 2019. She was one of our local connections to the world of underground, city-specific, often raunchy SF drag that existed before the scene came to be dominated by Rupaul's Drag Race and its annual crop of new, nationally recognized "stars."
"The average drag fan now only cares about Rupaul queens, to the point of being rude to other queens," Heklina lamented to SFist in 2019. "They don't seem to know that drag even existed before Drag Race."
She added, "All people want to see now is a death drop. And it always gets the same response."
Still, creative, original shows like her collaborations with Peaches Christ, and the annual Golden Girls reenactments at the holidays, continued to win her new fans.
Just two weeks ago, Heklina was in SF for the opening-of-the-season Daytime Realness party at El Rio, which she posted about on Instagram. Heklina co-founded that party 12 years ago and continued to come to town almost monthly, from March to October, to host it.
A more complete obituary and further remembrances will follow.