October 19, 1945 – March 7, 1988
Divy was one of my very first Findadeath.com stories, and now in retrospect, very much like Karen Carpenter, I decided she deserves the full Find a Death treatment. Please forgive my use of gender (i.e. he/she).
Harris Glenn Milstead (he) was nicknamed “Divine,” (she) by film director and childhood friend, John Waters. They made wonderful movies together, most notably Female Trouble (my fave) and Pink Flamingos. It was Pink Flamingos that sent her into stardom, because she ate dog dookie for real. It shocked everyone, and she became the thing that legends are made of.
Find a Death friend Josh has an amazing blog site with locations from all of Waters’ films.
I got in to Divine long after the early Waters movies became well known. I’d known about her for years, but never really had an interest. Then I saw Female Trouble. Very good, but then I heard her music, and I was hooked. I saw Divine in concert many times over a period of a few years. The first time I saw her was at the Nectarine Ballroom in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She showed up late, but a great show. The next time was at the Liedernacht in Detroit. During the show, I handed her my single of I’m So Beautiful, and she signed it for me (above). Then later on, Divine threw her sweat towel at me. I still have it. Treasure.
After that, I saw her at the Limelight in Chicago. Apparently Divine liked me. She picked me out of the audience, and I danced on stage with her, and she shoved me into her chest. She also signed my poster for the night. What I wouldn’t do for a picture of me and Divy dancing.
By 1988, Divine was pretty much established in the film biz. Hairspray had just been released. It was John Waters’ first really “main stream” film – and it was terrific. It still had the appeal of his older films, and yet really turned a lot of new people on to him, and Divine. The reviews were fantastic, and on the heels of that, Divine was offered a semi-recurring role on the show Married… with Children. I think he was to play a gay uncle or something.
From a Findadeath.com friend: Several people mention he was to star as Peg’s mom. That is not true. He was to star as Al’s Uncle Otto. That was one of the reasons he agreed to do it. He wanted to play a man.
On March 7th, 1988, Divy was in Los Angeles staying in the Regency Hotel, located at 7940 Hollywood Boulevard.
Here’s the layout of the hotel and the front entrance.
Apparently it has turned into an apartment building now, and you too can live there.
He was in town to film his first episode of Married… With Children. The night before he was due on set, he had dinner with friends. Afterward, he returned to the hotel. Before entering room number 261 he leaned over the balcony and sang “Arrivederci Roma” to his friends. This was at 6 p.m.
Divine was notorious for being on time, when working (except @ the Nectarine Ballroom, I guess). When he didn’t show up the next morning for his shoot on the show, people became very concerned. His manager Bernard Jay went to the hotel at noon to check on Divine, and used his passkey to get in. That’s when he found him. Dead, nude, and covered with a blanket. He died in his sleep of heart failure. He was 42 years old.
This is back to me, but I remember the night Divine died. This is entirely appropriate. I was living in Chicago, and went to the movies with my friend Bun. It was a double bill. Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! starring Tura Satana,
and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. When we got home later that evening, there were about 4 messages of condolence on my machine. The next day there were plenty more. I love that I saw those movies on the day Divine died.
Divine’s autopsy report comes to us courtesy of our very good friends at Celebritycollectables.com. Thank you guys.
The report shows that Divine weighed 370 pounds, and was in reasonably good health, despite his size. The most interesting bits I could find were that there was “a large amount of partially digested pasta and other food material. No foreign material or pills are identified.” Describing Divine’s liver, “It weighs. 4300 grams. The capsule is smooth and thin. The cut sections are firm, tan-brown with yellowish discoloration.” Mmm.
On the 10th, three days after Divine died, his body was flown back to Baltimore for the funeral. Bernard Jay had accompanied Divine’s body, and upon arrival, greeted Divine’s mother Frances. He gave her Divine’s diamond stud earring, per her request.
Divine was laid out in his casket wearing a Tommy Nutter suit, black polo neck shirt, and a piece of jewelry designed by Andrew Logan. His hands were placed on his stomach. Before the casket was closed, Bernard Jay put their original business contract in the box with him. Of course, that’s what he says. He sounds dodgy to me.
The request was made that no money be donated to charity in Divine’s name, but for people to buy flowers, because he loved them so much. Elton John sent a huge batch, as did Tab Hunter and Whoopi Goldberg, along with a card that read, “See what a good review will do?” The card from Fox and Married… with Children read, “If you didn’t want the job, why didn’t you just tell us?”
Katey Sagal, Ricki Lake, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara attended the funeral, and John Waters delivered the eulogy. The pallbearers were John Waters, Bernard Jay, Chuck and Brook Yeaton, Andrew Logan, Frank Kejan and cousins Lee and Barry Milstead. Divine’s hearse got a police escort to the Prospect Hill Cemetery, in Towson, Maryland.
Most of Divine’s shit ended up being auctioned at Christies, to cover debts.
Trivia: As a teen, Divine used to throw parties on his parents’ credit cards, and decorate the room with flowers stolen from that very cemetery.
More: About a year after Divine’s death, my friend Bun and I went to see John Waters live, doing a lecture/standup thing. He spoke for a little more than an hour. I don’t remember much, except that I learned never to wear white after Labor Day. Afterward, we waited in line to meet him. In front of us were these awful queens who decided to do an audition for John. I mean, these bitches had scripts and everything, and they lisped their way through this dreadful monologue. It was awful. Finally, John interrupted them and said, “Look, Make the movie.” I liked that. After they f*cked off, he signed my Hairspray poster – and Bun’s tampon case.
More 2: This is my scratch and sniff card from the film Polyester, the first film Divine made with Tab Hunter. The smells included roses, fart, glue, pizza, gasoline, skunk, leather, dirty shoes and air freshener.
More 3: If any of you have any doubts about Tab Hunter’s sexuality, check this picture out – but don’t do it if you’re going to get all upiddy and in my face about it. This is fair warning. You find fags freaky? Do NOT go here.
More 4: While perusing my stash, I came across (stop) this picture of a person that was in the film Hairspray. Who is it?
FEB 6, 2002: I met John Waters last night, and showed him the picture of the mystery man in Hairspray.
John replied laughingly, “This guy is just a liar! I get résumé’s all the time from people who say they were in my films. Lies! Lies! Lies!” By the way, John is the coolest of the cool. I don’t know if he thought I was a nutcase or not, but he just hung out and chatted with me about all sorts of junk, for a bout half an hour. Didn’t get annoyed or anything. Hooray! I didn’t piss off a celebrity! For once. Oh yeah, he signed my Polyester scratch card, for all of us Findadeath.com people!
Divine’s mother Frances Milstead just released a book called, My Son Divine. If you like Divine, you must get this book. It’s very touching, and full of great photographs. Bless.
AUGUST 06: I’m sorry to say that the hotel where Divine died, is itself going to die very very soon. It stands empty. Mocking me. : ) So I drove up the driveway and helped to preserve a tiny bit of it. This is the hotel entrance, and my small token.
The Regency Hotel is gone. The place where Divine breathed her last breath, has been razed. When I snapped this picture on April 3, 2007, the actual unit where Divine died, was still there.
Now it’s all gone, except for possibly the very cool sign that I wish I had space for.
But travel back in time with me, to January 25th of this year. I had just left Phyllis Diller‘s house (true) and I decided to drive past the Regency and check on its demolition status.
I spotted the security car in front, no doubt to keep squatters away.
I got in anyway, and liberated the number from the door which Divine died in. Then the wheels started spinning.
I contacted my pal Lisa Burks, who was with her boyfriend Walter – and Walter always carries a handy dandy tool set around, in his car, so with my pal Brian, the 4 of us hopped the fence on a mission to liberate the door from Divine’s room.
We entered through the front doors (sans the address above it) and made our way inside to the pool area which was just a mess, but creepy cool.
I looked up at that balcony where Divine sang the song to the last people that saw her alive, and climbed up there myself.
The four of us scoured the room for souvenirs, which were pretty scarce. The bathroom was a wreck,
I did get the door from the fuse box,
but my mission was that door.
After doing my duty of laying down in the approximate location where Divine Died (orborama), thanks to Walter, we did indeed rescue the relic, fastened it to the roof of my Jeep, and merrily drove down Sunset Boulevard with my new treasure.
Thanks to Lisa, Walter and Brian for braving this Death Hag mission with me, with tools, and Lisa for the great pictures. I am honored to have such great friends.
When in London in February ’07, I got to talking to my pal Dave Quantick about one of my favorite groups of the 80s, Modern Romance. Dave tells me he knows the man behind the band, Geoff Dean. I flipped, coz I really liked the band. Dave arranges an opportunity for me to meet Geoff, as well as Dave’s hunky pal Ali, and we get together for beers.
Geoff also wrote the screenplay for Kinky Boots (which I liked as well), then he dropped the bombshell that he wrote Divine’s first hit, You Think You’re A Man. A triple brush with greatness. : )
July 2008, my good pal Michael Krahn took a trip to Baltimore, and paid homage to Divine. Michael kept me posted throughout the trip. “Last night we arrived in Savannah and wound up getting in to Paula Deen’s restaurant for dinner instead of brunch today so I had all day to put together my little project.
I started with a memorial wreath found on clearance at Wal-mart in Memphis. The makeup and doodads came from a Dollar Tree in Nashville. They didn’t have any press-on nails or eyelashes there so when we were leaving Pigeon Forge we stopped at another Wal-mart and I picked up those along with some glitter, sequins and spray adhesive. I do think it’s quite appropriate that the nails, lashes, glitter and sequins came from Dolly’s hometown. The cost for everything was less than $20.
Here’s a “before” picture for you.
I spent about three hours on it and fuck if it didn’t turn out exactly like I wanted it to! Tony had been out and when he came back and saw it he said “wow – you took a five dollar wreath and turned it in to a $1.98 Beauty Show!”
I started by spraying the flowers with the adhesive and then glittering ’em. (“well nut ’em honey! nut ’em!”) then I went over the whole wreath again with the spray adhesive and then added sequins and let it dry for 20 minutes. Shiny! Smelly! Now I had my base to start from.
I bought two rolls of ribbon and had the nail glue from the press-on nails so as to affix everything permanently and somewhat weather repellent. Leftover breakfast doughnuts from the Piggly Wiggly next door to the hotel were the finishing touch.
Right now we’re about 1/3 of the way between Georgia and Maryland. We should make it to the cemetery by around 1pm .”
Well, ladies and gentlemen, they indeed made it. Wonderful job, Michael. God bless you and God bless Divine.
Michael adds: We went to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore today and saw a ten-foot rotating Divine that was pretty cool.
Update: Feb 3, 2015: James Rieker sends this shitty sticker from the exact location where Divine nibbled her way into infamy in the John Waters film Pink Flamingos.
You are officially the FILTHIEST PERSON ALIVE!