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.
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.