Remembering Mario Montez, Warhol Superstar, Who Died at 78
Photo of Mario Montez by Rafał Placek
Mario Montez—one of Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures," Warhol's first "drag superstar," and Charles Ludlam's "ridiculous" muses—has died at the ripe age of 78 in Key West, Fla. The cause was complications of a stroke, said Claire K. Henry, senior curatorial assistant of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art, according to the New York Times. Montez is survived by his partner, David Kratzner.
Born Rene Rivera in Puerto Rico, Montez, who had a deep obsession with 1940s film star Maria Montez and old Hollywood glamour, rose to fame in the 1960s due to his involvement in films by avant-garde auteur Jack Smith, appearing as Dolores Flores in the controversial film Flaming Creatures. He's also in the unfinished Smith film, Normal Love. Then Montez was featured in 13 films by Andy Warhol, becoming one of his Superstars, along with Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, and Taylor Mead (who also passed away earlier this year).
Filmmaker John Waters once said that Montez “forever holds the highest position of royalty in the world of underground cinema.” Montez was presented with a lifetime achievement award in “queer film” in 2012 by the Berlin International Film Festival, which called him “the great drag superstar.”
But it wasn't all glamour all the time. As Emily Colucci points out in her tribute to Mario Montez at the blog FilthyDreams:
Unlike many of the other avant-garde superstars, whose life outside of locales such as the Factory and Jack Smith’s apartment/stage set is nearly unimaginable, Montez consistently held a day-job at the post office throughout his career. Even though Montez always performed in drag and was Warhol’s first drag Superstar before Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, he, as a devout Roman Catholic, had a complex relationship with drag, which he called “going into costume,” and continued to be fearful that his family or co-workers would discover his drag career.
Many had lost track of Montez until he reappeared in the fascinating 2006 documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, surrounded by Maria Montez memorabilia in his New York City apartment and discussing his experiences with the late filmmaker. Montez then made collaborations with artist Conrad Ventur.
Watch Warhol's "Mario Banana" below:
Watch Warhol's "Blowjob" below:
Montez at the Teddy Awards accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award in Queer film:
A clip of Conrad Ventur's 'Screen Tests Revisited,' featuring Montez: