A Divine legacy


It’s been over thirty years since the famous drag queen, Divine, also known as Glenn Milstead, passed away from heart failure. Although he may be gone, the legacy he left is impossible to ignore. From working with John Waters to the famous Andy Warhol, Milstead strived to be taken seriously as a male character actor and was very openly gay. Although he was mainly praised for his roles in drag, he was quoted saying that drag was just his job; he only did it when he was paid for it. 

Milstead grew up being bullied for his femininity and beaten severely by bullies at his school. It wasn’t until he was sixteen that he met John Waters and began to find his place in the world. The two began to work together and Waters gave Milstead the name Divine. The two decided for Divine to create a drag persona that was larger than life, and the opposite of what society viewed as beautiful. Waters wanted to be known for how gross and poor taste his films were, and he put Divine right in the center of them. The two stirred up controversy a lot, and much of it would follow Divine throughout his career.

During the disco era, Divine started to perform at nightclubs, and his performances quickly took off. Divine took this as a way to hopefully get commercial success by recording disco songs to include in his act. But Divine’s real success wasn’t until the 1988 film “Hairspray” when he came out and carried the film with his role of Edna Turnbald. “Hairspray” marked Divine’s launch into the mainstream eye, and gave him the chance for a role finally out of drag.

Divine was set for a guest appearance on “Married with Children” and would possibly become a recurring character in the show. But sadly just before production began, Divine passed from an enlarged heart. 

Although he passed, he lives on in many ways. He was an inspiration to many artists, even being the inspiration behind Ursula the sea-witch in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Divine was also painted by artists, including David Hockney and Andy Warhol. His performances were pivotal to the queer film community.

 John Waters is quoted saying, “His legacy was that he made all drag queens cool.” He brought his over-the-top drag persona to the public eye, exposing people to things they’d never seen before.

Today, in the American Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore, a ten-foot statue of Divine stands tall, a memory of his legacy. Although he passed fairly young, the legacy he left will last forever.