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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal


Divine 1945to –1988

Actor, drag queen, and cult icon, best known for his transgressive work with director John Waters. Born Harry Glenn Milstead, he and Waters lived on the same street in Baltimore, and their eventual friendship led to Divine’s first appearances on film. Waters not only encouraged that he perform in drag, but he also invented the stage name Divine and helped develop a shocking look and persona. One of Divine’s most memorable moments, and a scene that launched him to cult status, came at the end of Pink Flamingos when he actually ate dog feces for the camera. The notoriety that followed launched him into a varied career of film, theater, club performances, and even a few disco hits—usually performed in drag, although he also strived to be taken seriously as a male actor. During this time he enjoyed an underground celebrity status and had a number of relationships with other men. In 1988, he had one of his most successful roles as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. Sadly, it was also his final role. He died in his sleep of an enlarged heart, just before he was scheduled to make a guest appearance on Married… with Children.

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