John Waters remembers legendary drag queen Divine

The director talks about the iconic star, collaborator and close friend who would have been 70 this month

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Divine John Waters
Divine in Pink Flamingos (1972)via movpins.com

If you’re clued up on John Waters’ legacy you may have heard of Divine. Or you’ve at least got the mental image stored in there. Fabulously attired, bold, and deliciously vile, the drag queen was the unquestioned star in some of Waters’ most celebrated and career defining films early on.

Sadly, Divine died of a heart attack at the age of 42 and next week, on October 19, it would have been his 70th birthday. To commemorate him, Waters – as well as fellow Dreamlander Pat Moran – gave an interview to Baltimore magazine about who Divine was.

As such good friends, Waters knew the real Divine intimately, not just the brassy queen who stole the screen. “Divine was not at all like the character Divine,” he reminisced. “He was a quiet gentleman who liked to eat and smoke pot, and was very loyal to his friends. He didn’t just have gay friends — he lived with a gangster once. At least half his friends were definitely straight, and he got along with everybody. And very generous.”

That didn’t stop the character terrorising the other queens. “Divine frightened drag queens because he would show up with a chainsaw and makeup artist Van Smith would put fake scars on his face, wearing mini skirts when you’re 300 pounds. He broke every rule. And now every drag queen, every one that’s successful today is cutting edge.”

Absolutely no one can question the influence he had on the drag world. He is so iconic that he’s almost mainstream. His legacy, according to Waters, was that he made drag “cool”. I think he changed drag queens forever. Ru Paul’s show wouldn’t be there. His legacy was that he made all drag queens cool. They were square then, they wanted to be Miss America and be their mothers.”

It’s been 27 years since Divine died and Waters still thinks of him often. “I’m shocked every day still he’s dead because he had been such a big part of my life. It’s just that he was in our personal lives. And also, when you have your first success, which we did with those first movies basically, it’s incredibly exciting, and he was a huge part of it.”

Such a defining part in fact, that Waters wants them to be together forever – literally. “We’re going to spend eternity with him because I bought a gravestone where Divine’s buried,” he explained. “So did Pat, so did Mink Stole, so did Dennis Dermody. We call it “Disgraceland.” So we’ll all be together. ” That’s true love, right?

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