Drag icon, Heklina, honored in public memorial at Castro Theatre

San Francisco drag icon, Heklina, was honored Tuesday during a public memorial at San Francisco's Castro Theatre. A portion of Castro Street is closed for 12 hours due to the event. 

Fans and friends are celebrating the life of Heklina, 55, a prominent figure in the LGBTQ+ community. The event billed as: ‘Heklina A Memorial (She Would Have Hated This)’ is scheduled for 8 p.m. The event is free and will be live streamed. Ticket reservations are required, but because of popular demand and limited space, Castro Street is closed between 18th and Market streets from noon to midnight. The outdoor component is free and open to the public. The outdoor performances will begin at 6 p.m. Two large screens outdoors will broadcast the events from inside the Castro Theatre.

The death of the beloved, outrageous, and over-the-top performer, on April 3 was sudden. Heklina, also known as Stefan Grygelko, was in London when she died, preparing to co-star in the production of ‘Mommie Queerest,' alongside dear friend Joshua Grannell, better known by his drag name, Peaches Christ.

‘Mommie Queerest’ was a spoof on the Faye Dunaway film, Mommie Dearest, which looked at the tumultuous relationship between Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina. Heklina was set to perform as ‘Hek-Tina’ for the production's Manchester, England run, April 5 through 8.

The Castro celebration is led by Grannell and D'Arcy Drollinger, who was recently named San Francisco's drag laureate, a first for the nation. Drollinger and Heklina also founded SoMa drag club and nightlife venue, Oasis

"Known for an alternative style of drag that junked lip-syncing and strict female impersonation for punk comedy and edgy, late-night musical numbers, Heklina had been a fixture in San Francisco for decades, as the host of the long-running drag shows Trannyshack and Mother, and as Dorothy Zborak in live reenactments of The Golden Girls," a news release read. 

Tuesday's memorial will likely include laughs and tears as loved ones perform and relish in their fondest memories of her.

"She’s part of the reason I got into drag. I won the Star Search competition that she hosted every year, and I was a big presence in her shows at Mother. She was just a huge influence on me and a lot of other people in the community, so we’re all here to celebrate her," said drag performer Vanilla Meringue.   

"She was involved in every facet of this community. She was a giver. She was bigger than life in any space that she held," said Chris Hollar, of San Francisco.    

Speaking to KTVU ahead of the memorial, Grannell spoke lovingly of his friend, calling her a trailblazer. 

"She created space for performers and fans. Space that wasn’t there before she came along," Grannell said. He hopes that through sharing at this event that everyone gets a deeper connection to Heklina and her body of work. 

Heklina's brand of drag started as a revolution, Grannell said. "The kind of drag that Heklina made space for was punk rock. It was about tearing down walls. It was about giving the middle finger to mainstream America, who said we didn’t have the right to exist and so we made our own spaces." 

"It's been a nightmare," Grannell reflects on the loss of his great friend. He said in her final days, they were together in London making future plans. "It was the shock of all shocks. I go every day to text her about something. I have to remind myself she's gone." He sees the silver lining as all the time they got to spend together. Grannell hopes the memorial is about love, family, chosen family and support. 

Sister Roma of San Francisco's Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is one of the memorial's organizers. "Tonight is a long-awaited celebration and chance to gather to grieve, to honor, to remember and to celebrate the wonderful drag icon, Heklina." 

Sister Roma said the community has been waiting for this opportunity to get together for hugs and laughter. "It’s going to provide a lot of comfort to a lot of people." 

Commenting on the tongue-in-cheek title of the memorial, Roma said Heklina was known for her dark and twisted sense of humor. Roma said Heklina would roll her eyes at sentiment. "I think secretly she would have loved it." And on her legacy: "Her death has made headlines around the world." The ramifications of the memorial event are perhaps larger than Heklina's life, Roma ponders. 

"Any type of chance that the LGBTQ+, queer people, trans people, our allies have an opportunity to come together is a great way for the world to see who we really are," Roma said. 

Heklina's official cause of death has not been revealed. However, foul play has been ruled out. 

Heklina wished that people consider donating to the GLBT Historical Society, Palm Springs Animal Shelter & Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue. 

This story has been updated with comment from Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Joshua Grannell, a.k.a. Peaches Christ. 

KTVU's LaMonica Peters contributed to this story.