Alexis Arquette, 1969-2016
Story & Recording by Patricia, Richmond, David, and Rosanna Arquette
Photo by John Roecker
We are honored to be asked to memorialize our sister Alexis Arquette. You’ll first be hearing me, Patricia, then our brother Richmond, then David, then our sister Rosanna.
I would like to highlight what an incredible artist Alexis Arquette was. As an award-winning actor, her works spanned the screen, theater and cabaret. As a cabaret singer and M.C. performing at top-level nightclubs, Alexis was a powerhouse, often performing as her self-invented alter ego “Eva Destruction.”
On stage, she starred in Libra with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company for director John Malkovich. Alexis received praise in VH1’s reality show The Surreal Life in 2005, embodying a strong trans role model at a time when transgender representation was literally non-existent.
Her long career in film began with her widely heralded performance as Georgette in Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. She continued with notable performances in Terminal Bliss, American Playhouse, Hollow Boy, Of Mice and Men, Threesome, Jumpin’ at the Boneyard, Grief, Jack Be Nimble, Pulp Fiction, The Wedding Singer, Bride of Chucky, Killer Drag Queens on Dope, and Wigstock, among many others.
Alexis studied Fine Arts at Otis Parsons. Like her, her paintings are beautiful, evocative, strong, uninhibited, and spirited, encompassing diverse themes such as fantasy, other-worldliness, religious struggle, and erotic art.
Her series of video compilations from local television documented societal norms of the time, capturing blatant anti-LGBT bias. These works also examine human sexuality, desire and desirability through her observing gaze.
When Alexis was dying, she said about her nephew’s work as an artist, “You signed your name on the tree of life.” But I want to say, “Alexis, that you are Darling, you are Brave One, you signed your name on the tree of life, and you will never be forgotten.”
Alexis was an original, wildly creative, fun and funny, every bit her own person. Her absence continues to be deeply felt. The world is missing out and I wish she were still alive.
Alexis grew up with a president who refused to even mention AIDS by name, let alone take any measures to prevent its spread. She heard the blowhards who judged, criticized and condemned her entire life. I believe the insensitivity in our culture is part of what wore her down.
Death is often reduced to statistics, as if each number isn’t a complete life, intricately interwoven with the lives of those who love them. The recent worldwide effort to address COVID begs the question, why is it not always this way? Why are we not as a species more reverent of life?
I promise you that humanity would be richer if Alexis were still around, and I’m sorry for those of you who never got to be around her.
Alexis was always ahead of her time. I shared a room growing up with Alexis. He taught me everything I knew about art, Hollywood, fashion, music. She would turn me on to bands years before they became popular.
I’m going to bounce back and forth between pronouns, because that’s what Alexis did.
She was a fighter, always standing up for herself and others. Anyone who knew Alexis loved her. The gangsters, the skaters, the club kids, the runaways. She was a Pied Piper wherever she or he went.
When Alexis decided to live fully as a woman, she also decided to only play female or trans roles as an actress. Again, she was ahead of her time. Despite her career suffering because of that decision, she taught us to stay true to ourselves and fought for us to see a world that we had just not caught up to yet.
Alexis passed away before we had today’s language around respectful gender identity. There was no “They/Them” yet.
In this moment of reflection on who our sister was, I’m reminded of just one of the many moments with her where her individuality was crystalized for me. It was a conversation we had in the hours before she left this life. I asked Alexis what clothes she wanted to be dressed in before her cremation. Alexis had every kind of outfit, every type of fluid expression. Fashion was one of the many ways that she shared her creative voice. And Alexis answered, “It doesn’t matter! Me! I’m just me!” We didn’t have the pronouns “They/Them” yet, but that was her message in her final moment with me.
It’s important to recognize and memorialize when any artist breaks new ground. Our sister Alexis Arquette was a pioneer. She was compelling, hypnotic, she drew you in. And she knew she had this power, whether with an individual friend or an endless audience of strangers. She could instantly hold you in the palm of her hand. And when she did, she showed you, me, us, all how to live a life fully self-expressed. She showed us where our own power resides.
Alexis challenged me to be who I am in every moment that I live with fearlessness and pride. In this moment of reflection on who was Alexis Arquette, they were a bad-ass!