Friends, fans mourn loss of legendary Bay Area drag performer Heklina

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Friends, fans mourn loss of legendary drag performer Heklina
Legendary San Francisco Bay Area drag performer Heklina has died, sources told ABC7 News on Monday.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Several sources have confirmed to ABC7 News that longtime drag performer Heklina has died.

Heklina, also known as Stefan Grygelko, was a fixture in the drag scene since the 1990s, and co-opened SoMa's drag club, Oasis.

"We are shocked and devastated to learn of the passing of Heklina today," the nightclub wrote in a tweet.

Fellow performer "Peaches Christ" announced on Twitter Heklina died in London where the two were co-starring in a production of their drag parody "Mommie Queerest."

Friend "Peaches Christ" wrote on Twitter; "I am shocked and horrified to bring this news to you. I am living in a real-life nightmare," she wrote.

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"This morning, in London, England, I went to collect my dear friend Heklina, who is costarring with me in 'Mommie Dearest' show here, and found her dead," she continued. "Heklina is not just my best friend, but a beloved icon of our community."

There were feelings of disbelief at Oasis nightclub in San Francisco.

That's where dozens gathered Monday afternoon to mourn the loss of Heklina.

The local star was well known for things like the annual Golden Girls Live show, which was promoted on ABC7 back in November.

"It started off in the front parlor of a friend's Victorian in the Western Addition 17 years ago and it's slowly just grown and grown and grown and now it's this huge, you know, people - everybody comes out," Heklina said.

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Heklina's career in San Francisco spanned decades, and the performer has long been one of the faces of the city's drag scene.

But Heklina's reach goes far beyond a single career.

The artist is credited with helping to revolutionize drag shows, not just here in the Bay Area, but also around the world.

"Heklina brought a style of drag in the 90s that was not really seen here. We had typical drag, but she brought the performance art aspect," said Holotta Tymes, a friend of Heklina.

As word of Heklina's death spreads, memorials and tributes like one at the Castro Theater have begun popping up all around San Francisco.

At Manny's in the city's Mission District, people gathered for a pre-scheduled event to discuss anti-drag and transgender legislation in the U.S.

There, organizers took time to honor Heklina's legacy.

"Heklina did a lot of stuff everywhere, Palm Springs, she was in London right now. Just all over the place. She was super active," said drag performer, Juanita MORE!

While the cause of Heklina's death is under investigation, friends say their memories will live on forever.

"This is a perfect example of how the drag community and a drag queen can change lives," said D'Arcy Drollinger.

Soho Theatre released a tweet writing, "Are in shock and incredibly saddened with news of Heklina's passing. Our thoughts are with Peaches, Mommie Queerest company, Heklina's family, friends + their wider community."

"I am absolutely devastated. Heklina was an icon in the truest sense - funny, caring, outrageous, and brave. I first saw Heklina perform when I was a young gay man in the 1990s, new to San Francisco. Over the years, I got to know her and helped her find a space for Oasis. I've rarely worked with someone as fierce, creative, and dedicated," State Senator Scott Wiener wrote in a statement.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney wrote in a tweet:

"So shocking and sad to hear about the loss of Heklina, a drag legend, brilliant performer and trailblazing community icon. My condolences and love goes out to all of Heklina's friends, family, and loved ones, and the entire LGBTQ and drag communities."

SF Pride also released the following statement:

Heklina, aka Stefan Grygelko, San Francisco's cherished local nightlife icon, club owner, and legendary drag performer has reportedly passed away while on tour in London.

Nguyen Pham, Board President of San Francisco Pride speaks for the community when he says this is completely heartbreaking and will remain top of mind across the queer community for some time.

"Personally, I've been honored and grateful to have engaged with Heklina directly, as well as attended her spectacularly memorable productions, numerous times over the years. I know that her unique brand of radically inclusive drag art has evoked so much pure joy from countless community members and allies for many generations. She was unstoppable and a master without parallel."

The cause of death is under investigation.