The immediate outpouring of grief on Monday for the sudden death of iconic San Francisco drag performer Heklina included several impromptu gatherings of friends in the city's nightlife scene.
Heklina, a.k.a. Stefan Grygelko, passed away at age 54 while in London preparing for a run of the drag sendup Mommie Queerest, with longtime friend and collaborator Peaches Christ. The cause of death is still not known.
Friend and former business partner D'Arcy Drollinger was at times in tears while hosting a gathering Monday at Oasis, the SoMa nightclub she and Heklina opened together eight years ago.
"This is such a shock to me and to the community," Drollinger told ABC 7.
The informal gathering went from 4 p.m., when the club opened, until after 10 p.m., and multiple news stations stopped by the club to shoot images of the gathering. There was also a previously scheduled discussion at Manny's in the Mission that featured Heklina's fellow drag legend Juanita MORE! and drag star turned SF politico Honey Mahogany, to discuss political attacks on drag performance around the country, during which some time was given over to commemorating Heklina. A clip of that is seen in the ABC 7 coverage above.
Another gathering occurred around the corner from Oasis at Powerhouse, at the Monday drag show Pillows. Host Glamamore, a.k.a. Mr. David, led the crowd in a group cheer, saying, "When a drag queen dies, we don't cry and take a moment of silence, we scream to the rafters so they can hear us and know they were loved."
KPIX also covered the Oasis event, and spoke to Drollinger backstage.
"San Francisco drag would not be the drag you see now without Heklina," Drollinger said, speaking to KPIX. "This is a perfect example of how drag can help people. She let so many people shine, people that maybe would not have found themselves by giving them that opportunity."
But there was one distinctive, commemorative item that the local TV reporters couldn't fully comment on — a spotlit chair that was in the center of the room, on stage at Oasis, surrounded by flowers. That's because it commemorates one of Heklina's best-known sexual proclivities, and something she was known to do to select audience members she pulled on stage back in the day at Trannyshack at the Stud: rimming. This was a symbolic rimming chair, with Heklina's face painted, mouth open, on the seat — a hilarious IYKYK object for all the friends who gathered to mourn on Monday, and an item that recalls a raunchier, not-ready-for-prime-time era in SF drag with which Heklina will always be associated.
We won't call it fake news, but KPIX's Sara Donchey isn't quite on the mark saying "There was an empty chair on stage with flowers as a memorial."
Reportedly, the reporters all asked about the meaning of the chair, and when they heard, said, "Oh, we can't report that."
Rest in power, Heckles.