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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 9, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 37
The Lady Chablis dead at 59
Section One
ALL STORIES
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The Lady Chablis dead at 59

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Long before RuPaul and her 'Drag Race,' the world was introduced to another legendary queen who, aside from the likes of Divine, was arguably the most known drag queen on the planet.

In 1994 The Lady Chablis - not to be confused with Seattle's own Ladie Chablis - was featured in the best-seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt and in the film version too. She was eccentric, gorgeous, and mysterious. Audiences fell in love with her. The straight world was intrigued and entertainer by her. And Gay men were madly in love with her for the visibility her talent as an actress, dedication as an activist, and celebrity as a superstar had given to the community's then-stalled equality movement.

The Lady Chablis died on Thursday in Savannah, Ga. She was 59 years old. According to friends she had been performing until about a month ago.

The official cause of death was pneumonia, Cale Hall told the New York Times. Hall was a longtime friend to Chablis and a co-owner of Club One, where Chablis performed for three decades.

It is important to note that Seattle's legendary entertainer Ladie Chablis is not deceased. Due to similarities in both performers' stage names, some concerned community members contacted SGN asking about the local drag icon as soon as news broke that the senior Chablis had passed.

Seattle's Ladie Chablis took to Facebook after she received a few calls from friends checking in on her health and well-being. 'We both spell the first part of our name different,' she posted on the Ladie Chablis fan page. 'Regardless Chablis was an icon. I remember her when she came to Seattle with Lady Bunny I believe at the Paramount Theatre. I actually own The Garden of Good and Evil. Very classy lady. RIP Lady Chablis.'

The late Lady Chablis was a standout character in author John Berendt's book, which introduced the world to Savannah and a few of the eccentric people who live there.

'She was The Lady Chablis from morning to night,' Berendt said. 'She had a great repartee. She was sassy, and she had a way with words. She was creative.'

Berendt and Chablis met under funny circumstances. According to Berendt, Chablis had just received her biweekly estrogen shots and was really feeling herself. Somehow, she ended up in Berendt's car for a ride home.

'She had both hands on her hips and a sassy half-smile on her face as if she had been waiting for me,' he wrote.

Chablis went on to become the book's most popular character and without hesitation, Berendt admits she was also his favorite, too.

'It's not as if she died without knowing,' he added. 'She knew. And she also knew she was everybody's favorite.'

After the book came out Chablis appeared on 'Good Morning America' and 'Oprah.' Readers from around the country went to see her at Club One. She published an autobiography, Hiding My Candy, in 1996 and the next year played herself in Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of the Berendt book.

She was born Benjamin Edward Knox in Quincy, Fla., on March 11, 1957, and never finished high school. She took the name Chablis as a teenager. As she recalled in Mr. Berendt's book, her mother, inspired by a wine bottle label, had intended the name for a younger sister but had had a miscarriage. Ms. Chablis immediately expressed interest in the name.

'I said, 'Ooooo, Chablis. That's nice. I like that name,' ' she was quoted as saying in the book. 'And Mama said, 'Then take it, baby. Just call yourself Chablis from now on.' So ever since then, I've been Chablis.'

She had her name legally changed to The Lady Chablis.

Survivors include two sisters, Lois Stevens and Cynthia Ponder; and two brothers, Charles Whiteside and John Fairley Jr.

Chablis performed about once a month and never changed her risqué style.

Her last performance was on August 6, to a packed house.

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