Divine (actor)

Divine (actor)

Born Harris Glenn Milstead
19 October 1945(1945-10-19)
Towson, Baltimore County, Maryland, United States
Died 7 March 1988(1988-03-07) (aged 42)
Los Angeles, California, United States

Divine (October 19, 1945 – March 7, 1988), born Harris Glenn Milstead, was an American actor, singer and drag queen. Described by People magazine as the "Drag Queen of the Century",[1] Divine often performed female roles in both cinema and theater and also appeared in women's clothing in musical performances. Even so, he considered himself to be a character actor and performed male roles in a number of his later films. He was often associated with independent filmmaker John Waters and starred in ten of Waters's films, usually in a leading role. Concurrent with his acting career, he also had a successful career as a disco singer during the 1980s, at one point being described as "the most successful and in-demand disco performer in the world."[2]

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, into a conservative, wealthy middle class family, he became involved with John Waters and his acting troupe, the Dreamlanders, in the mid-1960s and starred in a number of Waters's early films such as Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). These films have since become cult classics. In the 1970s, Milstead made the transition to theater and appeared in a number of productions, including Women Behind Bars and The Neon Woman, while continuing to star in such films as Polyester (1981), Lust in the Dust (1985) and Hairspray (1988). Meanwhile, in 1981 Divine had embarked on a disco career, producing Hi-NRG tracks, most of which had been written by Bobby Orlando, and went on to achieve chart success with hits like "You Think You're A Man", "I'm So Beautiful" and "Walk Like a Man." Divine died from cardiomegaly in 1988.

The New York Times said of Milstead's '80s films: "Those who could get past the unremitting weirdness of Divine's performance discovered that the actor/actress had genuine talent, including a natural sense of comic timing and an uncanny gift for slapstick."[3] He was also described as "one of the few truly radical and essential artists of the century… [who] was an audacious symbol of man's quest for liberty and freedom."[4] Since his death, Divine has remained a cult figure, particularly with those in the LGBT community, of which he was a part, being openly gay.



Early life: 1945–1965

Divine's high school yearbook photo at age seventeen, following a diet undertaken in 1961.[5]

Harris Glenn Milstead was born on October 19, 1945, at the Women's Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, at the under-average weight of 5 pounds, 14 ounces.[6] His father, Harris Bernard Milstead (May 1, 1917 – March 4, 1993), after whom he was named, had been one of seven children born in Towson, Maryland to a plumber who worked for the Baltimore City Water Department.[7] Divine's mother, Frances Milstead (née Vukovich; April 12, 1920 – March 24, 2009), was one of fifteen children born to an impoverished Serbian immigrant couple who had grown up near to Zagreb, Yugoslavia, before moving to the United States in 1891.[8][9] When she was 16, Frances moved to Baltimore where she worked at a diner in Towson, and it was here that she met Harris, who was a regular customer. They entered into a relationship and were married in 1938, before both gaining employment working at the Black and Decker factory in Towson. Due to his problems with muscular dystrophy, Harris Milstead was not required to join the United States armed forces and fight in the Second World War, and instead both Harris and Frances worked throughout the war in what they saw as "good jobs".[10] They wanted a family, and so attempted to conceive a child, but Frances suffered two miscarriages in 1940 and 1943.[9][11]

By the time of Divine's birth, the Milsteads were relatively wealthy, and had adopted conservative and conventional views, adhering to the Baptist denomination of Christianity.[12] Later describing his upbringing, Divine would recollect: "I was an only child in, I guess, your upper middle-class American family. I was probably your American spoilt brat."[12] Indeed, his parents would lavish almost anything that he wanted upon him, including food, and he soon developed an eating problem, becoming overweight, a condition that he would live with for the rest of his life.[13]

At age twelve, his family moved to Lutherville, a Baltimore suburb, where he attended Towson High School, graduating in 1963.[14][15] It was there that he was bullied, partly because of his weight and his perceived effeminacy, and he later reminisced that he "wasn't rough and tough" but instead "loved painting and I always loved flowers and things."[16][17] Due to this horticultural interest, he took a job at a local florist's shop while aged fifteen. Several years later he went on a diet that enabled him to drop in weight from 180 pounds to 145 pounds, giving him a new sense of confidence.[18] Aged 17, his parents sent him to a psychiatrist, where he first began to realize his sexual attraction to men as well as women, something then taboo in conventional American society. Soon after, in 1963, he began attending the Marinella Beauty School, where he learned hair styling and after completing his studies gained employment at a couple of local salons, where he specialised in the creation of beehives and other upsweept hairstyles.[19][20] He also sometimes helped out at his parents' day care business, for instance dressing up as Santa Claus to entertain the children at Christmas time.[21] Milstead eventually decided to give up his job and for a while was financially supported by his wealthy parents, who catered to his expensive taste in clothes and cars, and reluctantly paid the many bills that he ran up financing a number of lavish parties, where he would often dress up in drag, in particular liking to imitate his favourite celebrity, the actress Elizabeth Taylor.[22] In December 1964, he became locally recognized when gossip spread that he was the chief suspect in the murder investigation of his friend Sally Crough. However, he was later cleared when the real culprit, a serial killer who had already killed ten other people, was apprehended.[23][24]

John Waters and Divine's first films: 1966–1968

Milstead had begun to build up a large collection of friends around him, amongst them David Lochary (1944-1977), who would go on to become an actor and co-star in several of Divine's later films.[25] In the mid-1960s, Milstead also met and befriended a young man named John Waters (1946-) through their mutual friend Carol Wernig; Waters and Milstead were the same age and from the same neighbourhood, and both embraced many of the countercultural and underground elements of Baltimore society that were around at the time.[26][9] Along with friends like Waters and Lochary, Milstead began hanging out at "a beatnik bar" in downtown Baltimore named Mardick's, where they would associate with hippies and members of other countercultural groups and smoke marijuana, eventually bonding into what Waters described as "a family of sorts".[27]

"Divine. That's my name. It's the name John [Waters] gave me. I like it. That's what everybody calls me now, even my close friends. Not many of them call me Glenn at all anymore, which I don't mind. They can call me whatever they want. They call me fatso, and they call me asshole, and I don't care. You always change your name when you're in the show business. Divine has stuck as my name. Did you ever look it up in the dictionary? I won't even go into it. It's unbelievable."

Divine (1973)[28]

Waters liked to give his friends new nicknames, and it was he who first began calling Milstead 'Divine', later remarking that he had borrowed the name from a character in Jean Genet's novel Our Lady of the Flowers (1943), a controversial book about homosexuals living on the margins of Parisian society, which Waters - who was himself a homosexual - was reading at the time.[29] It was Waters who also began introducing Divine as "the most beautiful woman in the world, almost", a description that would be widely repeated in ensuing years.[30]

Waters was an aspiring filmmaker, intent on making "the trashiest motion pictures in cinema history" and had begun getting his friends, who would come to be known as "the Dreamlanders" (and who included Divine, Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce and Mink Stole), to appear in some of his low budget productions, which were filmed on Sunday afternoons.[31] Following the production of his first short film, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964), Waters decided to begin production of a second work, Roman Candles (1966), that was influenced by the pop artist Andy Warhol's recently created short Chelsea Girls (1966) by consisting of three 8-millimeter movies played simultaneously side by side. The first film to star Divine, in this instance in drag as a smoking nun, Roman Candles featured the Dreamlanders modeling their shoplifted clothes and performing various other surreal activities.[32][33] Being both a short film and of an avant-garde nature, Roman Candles would never receive widespread distribution, instead holding its premier at the annual Mt. Vernon Flower Mart in Baltimore, which had become popular with "elderly dames, young faggots and hustlers, and of course a whole bunch of hippies", and Waters would go on to screen it at several local venues alongside Kenneth Anger's short film Eaux d'Artifice (1953).[34]

Waters followed Roman Candles with a third short film, entitled Eat Your Makeup (1968), in which Divine once more wore drag, this time in order to portray a fictionalised version of Jackie Kennedy, the widow of recently assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who in the film had turned to kidnapping models and forcing them to eat their own make-up.[35][36] Divine kept his involvement with Waters and these early underground films a secret from his conservative parents, whom he felt would not understand them or the reason for his involvement in such controversial and bad-taste films, and indeed they would not find out about them for many years to come.[37][38] Divine's parents had decided to buy him his own beauty shop in Towson, in the hope that this financial responsibility would help him to settle down in life and stop spending so extravagantly, and whilst he agreed to work there, he refused to be involved in owning and managing the establishment, leaving this to his mother.[39] Not long after, in the summer of 1968, he also moved out of his parental home and began renting his own apartment.[40]

The Diane Linkletter Story, Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs: 1969-1970

Now living independently, Divine once more appeared in Waters' work, acting in the director's next short film, The Diane Linkletter Story (1969), which had initially designed to simply be a test for a new sound camera that he had obtained. A black comedy that carried on in Waters' tradition of making "bad taste" films that would shock conventional American society, The Diane Linkletter Story was based upon the true story of Diane Linkletter, the daughter of media personality Art Linkletter, who had commited suicide earlier that year. Her death had led to a flurry of media interest and speculation, with various sources erroneously claiming that she had done so under the influence of the hallucinogen LSD. Waters' dramatised version starred Divine in the leading role as the teenager who rebels against her conservative parents after they try to break up her realtionship with hippie boyfriend Jim, before proceeding to consume a large quantity of LSD and then commit suicide. Although screened at the first Baltimore Film Festival, the film was not publicly released at the time, largely for legal reasons.[35][41]

In 1970, Divine decided that he was fed up of earning his livelihood as a hairdresser, and chose to open up a vintage clothing store in Provincetown, Massachusetts instead, using his parents' money to rent the premises. Opening in 1970, the store, which was named Divine Trash, sold items that Divine had purchased in thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales, although had to move from its original location after he had failed to obtain a licence from the local authorities.[35][42] Eventually realising that this venture was not proving financially viable, Divine sold off his stock at "bottom-of-the-barrel prices", and in the hope of raising some extra money, sold all of the furniture in his rented flat as well, something which led the landlady to put out a warrant for his arrest, forcing him to flee Provincetown.[43] Travelling to the other side of the country, Divine then spent some time in San Francisco, California, a city which at the time had a large gay subculture that attracted Divine, who was then embracing his homosexuality.[44]

In 1969, soon after the production of The Diane Linkletter Story, Waters began filming a full-length motion picture, Mondo Trasho, which starred Divine as one of the main characters, a "portly blonde bombshell" who drives around town and runs over a hitchhiker.[45] In one of the scenes, an actor was required to walk about a street naked, which was a crime in the state of Maryland at the time, leading to the arrest of Waters and most of the actors associated with the film; Divine however escaped, having speedily driven away from the police when they arrived to carry out the arrests.[46]

In 1970, Divine played Lady Divine, the operator of an exhibit known as The Cavalcade of Perversion who turned to murdering visitors in Waters' film Multiple Maniacs. At the film's end, a scene was shot that involved Divine's being raped by a giant lobster named Lobstora, before she runs around Baltimore in a craze attempting to kill anyone who passed. Multiple Maniacs was the first of Waters's films to receive widespread attention, and, as such, so did Divine. KSFX[disambiguation needed ] remarked that "Divine is incredible! Could start a whole new trend in films."[47]

Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and theatre work: 1971–1979

The theatrical poster for Pink Flamingos prominently displayed Divine as the film's star, and it is for the role of Babs Johnson that Divine became best known.

Following his San Francisco sojourn, Divine returned to Baltimore and participated in John Waters's next project, the film Pink Flamingos. Designed by Waters to be "an exercise in bad taste," the film featured Divine as Babs Johnson, "the filthiest person alive," who is forced to prove her right to the title from challengers, jealous perverts Connie and Raymond Marble. At the film's end, Divine notoriously placed fresh dog feces in her mouth, symbolizing the character's right to the title. The movie became one of the biggest cult hits of the 1970s and made Divine somewhat famous in the underground circuit.

Whilst he had been keeping his involvement with Waters' underground film-making a secret from his parents, he had continued to rely on them financially, charging them for expensive parties that he held and writing bad cheques. After he charged them for a major repair to his car in 1972, his parents confiscated it from him and told him that they would not continue to financially support him in such a manner. In retaliation, he came by their house the following day, collected his two pet dogs and then disappeared, not seeing or speaking with them for the next nine years. Instead, he would send them over fifty postcards from all over the world, informing them that he was fine, but on none of them did he leave a return address so that they could contact him.[48]

When the filming of Pink Flamingos finished, Divine returned to San Francisco, where, along with fellow Dreamlander Mink Stole, he became the star in a number of small-budget plays as part of a group known as The Cockettes, including Divine and Her Stimulating Studs, Divine Saves the World, Vice Palace, Journey to the Center of Uranus and The Heartbreak of Psoriasis.[49]

In 1974, Divine returned to Baltimore again to film Waters's next motion picture, Female Trouble, in which he played the lead role, a teenage delinquent, Dawn Davenport, who holds to the idea that "crime is art" and who is eventually executed in the electric chair for her violent behavior. Divine also played his first on-screen male role, Earl Peterson, in the film, and Waters included a scene during which these two characters had sex as a joke on the fact that both characters were played by the same actor. Female Trouble would prove to be Divine's favorite part, because it both allowed him to develop his character and to finally play a male role, something he had always felt important because he did not want to be typecast as a female impersonator.[50]

Soon after, he returned to theater, this time taking the role of prison matron Pauline in Tom Eyen's prison-based comedy Women Behind Bars. Produced in New York City, the play proved popular and for this reason was later taken to London, where it was less successful.[51] Playwright Eyen was however particularly impressed with Divine's performance and decided to write a new play that would feature him in a starring role. The result was The Neon Woman, set in the 1960s, featuring Divine as Flash Storm, the owner of a Baltimore strip club.[52]

Early disco work and Polyester: 1980–1983

After abandoning his former agent, Robert Hussong, for the British theater director Bernard Jay in 1979, Divine became involved in the club scene. He first appeared at a gay club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where his unscripted act included shouting "fuck you" repeatedly at the audience and then getting into a fight with another drag queen, a gimmick that proved popular with the club's clientele. Subsequently, he saw the commercial potential of including disco songs in with his act and, with composer Henry Krieger created the song "Born to be Cheap."[53] He then joined forces with young American composer Bobby Orlando, who wrote a number of singles for Divine, including "Native Love (Step By Step)," "Shoot Your Shot" and "Love Reaction". To help publicize these singles, which proved to be successful in many discos across the world, Divine went on a series of tours and combined his musical performances with comedic stunts and routines that often played up to his characters' stereotype of being "trashy" and outrageous.[54] Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Divine took his musical performances on tour across the world.[55]

Meanwhile, in 1981 Divine appeared in John Waters's next film, Polyester, starring as Francine Fishpaw, a figure who, unlike earlier roles, was not a strong female but a meek and victimized woman who falls in love with her dream lover, Todd Tomorrow, played by Tab Hunter. In real life, tabloid publications claimed a romantic connection between them, an assertion both denied.[56] The film was released in "odorama," accompanied by "scratch 'n' sniff" cards for the audience to smell at key points in the film. Soon after Polyester, Divine auditioned for a male role in Ridley Scott's upcoming science-fiction film Blade Runner. Even though Scott thought Divine unsuitable for the part, he claimed to be enthusiastic about Divine's work and was very interested in including him in another of his films, but ultimately this never came about.[57]

That same year, Divine decided to get back in contact with his estranged parents. His mother had learned of his cinematic and disco career after reading an article about the films of John Waters in Life magazine, and had gone to see Female Trouble at the cinema, but had not felt emotionally able to get back in contact with her son until 1981. She got a friend of hers to hand Divine a note at one of his concerts, leading Divine to telephone her, and the family were subsequently reunited.[58] The reconnection resulted in a mended relationship, and he bought them lavish gifts, informing them of how wealthy he was despite the fact that, according to his manager Bernard Jay, he was already heavily in debt due to his extravagant spending.[59]

Later disco work, Lust in the Dust and Hairspray: 1984–1988

Whilst his career as a disco singer continued, Divine and his management felt that, despite the fact that Divine's records had sold well, they were not receiving their share of the profits, and so they went to court against Orlando and his company, O-Records. Successfully nullifying their contract, they went on to sign with Barry Evangeli's company, InTune Music Limited, for whom Divine released several new disco records, including "You Think You're A Man" and "I'm So Beautiful."[60]

The next Divine film, Lust in the Dust (1985), reunited him with Tab Hunter and was Divine's first film not directed by John Waters. Set in the Wild West during the nineteenth century, the movie was a sex comedy that starred Divine as Rosie Velez, a "slut" who works as a singer in saloons and competes for the love of Abel Wood (Tab Hunter) against another woman.[61] Divine followed this production with a very different role, that of male gangster Hilly Blue in Trouble in Mind (1985). The script was written with Divine in mind, and although not being a major character in the film, Divine had been eager to play the part, because he wished to perform in more male roles and leave behind the stereotype of simply being a female impersonator.[62]

He again became involved with a John Waters project, the film Hairspray (1988), set in the 1960s. Divine played two roles, male and female, as in Waters's earlier Female Trouble.

He was originally cast as an airplane passenger in the film Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, but died before the film was in production.[63]

Appearing on American television chat shows such as Late Night with David Letterman, Thicke of the Night and The Merv Griffin Show to promote both his music and his film appearances throughout the 1980s, Divine became a well-known celebrity, and Divine-themed merchandise was produced, including greeting cards and The Simple Divine Cut-Out Doll Book. Because of this, several famous artists, including David Hockney and Andy Warhol, both of whom were known for their works which dealt with popular culture, painted portraits of him.[64]


Milstead's grave at Prospect Hill Park Cemetery, Towson, Maryland.

On the evening of March 7, 1988, three weeks after Hairspray was released, Divine was staying at the Regency Hotel in Los Angeles. The next day, he was scheduled to film his part in the Fox network's television series Married... with Children.[9] After dining with friends and returning to the hotel, he died in his sleep of an enlarged heart at age 42.[3]

Drag persona and performance

Divine: "How much did you pay to get in tonight?"
Audience: "Ten dollars."
Divine: "Well now, that's eight dollars to see the show - and two dollars to fuck me right after. All line up outside the dressing room and I'll be here till Christmas!"

Divine to his audience[65]

After developing a name for himself as a female impersonator known for "trashy" behavior in his early John Waters' films, Divine decided to capitalize on this image by appearing at his musical performances in his drag persona. In this role, he would be described as displaying "Trash. Filth. Obscenity. In bucket-loads."[66] Divine himself would describe his stage performances as "just good, dirty fun, and if you find it offensive, honey, don't join in."[65] As a part of his performance, he would constantly swear at the audience, often using his signature line of "fuck you very much", and at times would get audience members to come onstage, where he would fondle their buttocks, groins and breasts.[67]

He became increasingly known for outlandish stunts onstage, each time trying to outdo what he had done before. At one performance, held in the Hippodrome in London, that coincided with American Independence Day, Divine rose up from the floor on a hydraulic lift, draped in the American flag, and declared that "I'm here representing Freedom, Liberty, Family Values and the fucking American Way of Life."[68] When he performed at London Gay Pride parade, he sang on the roof of a hired pleasure boat that floated down the Thames past Jubilee Gardens,[69] whilst at a performance he gave at the Hippodrome in the last year of his life, he appeared onstage riding an infant elephant, known as Bully the Elephant, who had been hired for the occasion.[70] Nonetheless, Divine was not overly happy being known primarily for his drag act, and would tell an interviewer that "my favorite part of drag is getting out of it. Drag is my work clothes. I only put it on when someone pays me to",[71] a view that he also echoed to his friends.[72]

Divine and his stage act proved particularly popular amongst gay audiences, and he appeared at some of the world's biggest gay clubs, such as Heaven in London. According to Divine's manager, Bernard Jay, this was "not because Divine happened to be a gay person himself… but because it was the gay community that openly and proudly identified with the determination of the female character Divine".[73]

Personal life

"I think I've always been respectable. What I do onstage is not what I do in my private life… It's an act… It's how I make my living. People laugh, and it's not hurting anyone."

Divine (1983)[74]

Despite some claims made to the contrary, Divine always considered himself to be male, and was not transgender or transsexual. He used the term "Divine" as his personal name, telling one interviewer that both "Divine" and "Glenn Milstead" were "both just names. Glenn is the name I was brought up with, Divine is the name I've been using for the past twenty-three years. I guess it's always Glenn and it's always Divine. Do you mean the character Divine or the person Divine? You see, it gets very complicated. There's the Divine you're talking to now and there's the character Divine, which is just something I do to make a living. She doesn't really exist at all."[75] At one point he had the name "Divine" officially recognized, as it appeared on his passport, and in keeping with his personal use of the name, his close friends nicknamed him "Divi".[76]

Divine was homosexual, and during the 1980s had an extended relationship with a married man named Lee, who accompanied him almost everywhere that he went.[77] They later separated, and Divine would go on to have a brief affair with the gay porn star Leo Ford, something that was widely written and gossiped about in the gay press.[78] Divine would also regularly engage in sexual activities with young men that he would meet whilst performing, sometimes becoming infatuated with them: in one case, he met a young man in Israel who he slept with and subsequently wanted to bring back to the United States, something that his manager prevented him from doing.[79] Divine initially avoided informing the media about his sexuality, even when questioned by interviewers, and would sometimes hint that he was bisexual, but in the latter part of the 1980s decided to change this attitude, and began being open about his homosexuality.[80] Nonetheless, he avoided getting into discussions regarding gay rights, partially at the advice of his manager, realising that it would have had a negative effect on his career.[81]

Divine's mother, Frances Milstead, remarked that whilst Divine "was blessed with many talents and abilities, he could be very moody and demanding." She went on to note that whilst he was "incredibly kind and generous", he always wanted to get things done the way that he wanted, and would "tune you out if you displeased him."[82]

Despite his stature as a trend-setter in gay culture, Divine was also a big fan of what he called "macho action films". He told Terry Gross in an interview conducted shortly before his death that he was a fan of Sylvester Stallone films, and that his favorite actor was Charles Bronson.

Divine had suffered from problems with obesity ever since he was a child, for the reason that he "liked to eat - and eat - and eat - and drink gallons of Coca-Cola", with his hunger being increased by his smoking marijuana daily.[83] In the last few years of his life, when Divine began to realize that his career in disco was coming to an end, and he was having difficulty finding acting jobs, he began to feel suicidal and threatened to kill himself on a number of occasions.[84] Meanwhile, Dutch friends of Divine gave him two bulldogs in the 1980s, which he doted on, and named Beatrix and Klaus after the Queen Beatrix and her husband Prince Claus of the Netherlands. On numerous occasions he would have his photograph taken with them, and sometimes use these images for record covers and posters.[85]

Legacy and influence

Two books have been published about Divine since his death. The first, which was entitled Not Simply Divine!, was written by his manager and friend Bernard Jay, and published in 1992 by Virgin Books. The second, My Son Divine (2001), was written by his mother, Frances Milstead, and dealt with her sometimes fractious relationship with her son. His mother's continued relationship with the gay community was later documented in a film Frances: A Mother Divine directed by Tim Dunn and Michael O'Quinn which was released in 2010.[9][86]

Another book entitled Postcards From Divine was released from the Divine estate on November 5, 2011.[87] It is a collection of more than 50 postcards Divine sent to his parents while traveling the world as a pop star between 1977 and 1987. The ibook version of the book includes a narration by a vocal impersonator which John Waters called "Spooky" and "channeling". It also includes quotes and stories from his friends and colleagues including John Waters, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Channing Wilroy, Susan Lowe, Jean Hill, Tab Hunter, Lainie Kazan, Alan J. Wendl, Ruth Brown, Deborah Harry, Jerry Stiller, Ricki Lake and more.[2]

Divine was the inspiration for the design of Ursula the Sea-Witch, the villain in the Disney 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid.[88]

Meanwhile, Divine has left an influence on a number of musicians as well. Antony Hegarty of the band Antony and the Johnsons wrote a song about Divine which was included in the group's self-titled debut album, released in 1998. The song, titled "Divine", was an ode to the actor, who was one of Antony's life-long heroes. His admiration is expressed in the lines: "He was my self-determined guru" and "I turn to think of you/Who walked the way with so much pain/Who holds the mirror up to fools". Another such example of Divine's influence on musicians appeared in 2008, when Irish electronic singer Róisín Murphy paid homage to Divine in her music video for her song "Movie Star" by reenacting the attack by Lobstora from his 1970 film Multiple Maniacs and by the appearance of Divine lookalikes.

Due to Divine's portrayal of Edna Turnblad in the original comedy-film version of Hairspray, later musical adaptations of Hairspray have commonly placed male actors in the role of Edna, including Harvey Fierstein and others in the 2002 Broadway musical and John Travolta in the 2007 musical film.

I Am Divine, a feature documentary on the life of Divine, is currently in production. It is produced and directed by Jeffrey Schwarz of Los Angeles based production company Automat Pictures.

A 12 foot tall statue in the likeness of Divine by Andrew Logan can be seen on permanent display at The American Visionary Art Museum in Divine's home town of Baltimore, Maryland.[3]


Year Film Role Notes
1966 Roman Candles The Smoking Nun
1968 Eat Your Makeup Jacqueline Kennedy
1969 The Diane Linkletter Story Diane Linkletter
Mondo Trasho Divine
1970 Multiple Maniacs Lady Divine
1972 Pink Flamingos Divine / Babs Johnson
1974 Female Trouble Dawn Davenport / Earl Peterson
1981 Polyester Francine Fishpaw
1985 Lust in the Dust Rosie Velez Nominated - Razzie Award for Worst Actor
Trouble in Mind Hilly Blue
Divine Waters Himself Documentary
1988 Hairspray Edna Turnblad / Arvin Hodgepile Nominated - Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
1989 Out of the Dark Det. Langella
1998 Divine Trash Himself Archive footage used for documentary
2000 In Bad Taste
2002 The Cockettes
Year Title Role Notes
1987 Tales from the Darkside Chia Fung 1 episode


In the 1980s, Divine released several dance music records which were club music hits in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Divine's records comprised synth-heavy Hi-NRG music, most of it composed, created, performed, and produced by Bobby Orlando. In the United States, Divine's highest-charting songs were "Native Love", peaking at #21 on the Club Play Singles chart, and "Shoot Your Shot", which reached #39 among Club Play Singles. Divine's early UK releases on the Design Communications label included "Love Reaction" (which "borrowed" elements of New Order's big hit "Blue Monday"),[89] "Shake It Up", and "Shoot Your Shot". The Stock, Aitken & Waterman-produced song "You Think You're A Man" was Divine's most successful UK hit, reaching #16; the song was also a Top 10 hit in Australia, reaching #8 (thanks in part to a popular promotional tour in that country which included an appearance on the popular Australian music show Countdown.) Among the material Divine released on the Proto label in the United Kingdom was "I'm So Beautiful" (the follow-up single to "You Think You're A Man"), "Walk Like A Man" and "Twistin' the Night Away". These Proto label tracks saw their initial CD release on the "Maid In England" album and compilation of tracks from his Proto catalogue, entitled The Essential Divine, is currently available on iTunes.


CD reissues

  • The Story So Far - (1988, Receiver Records, KNOB 3)
  • The Best Of & The Rest Of - (1989, Action Replay Records, CDAR 1007)
  • Maid In England - (1990, ZYX Records, CD 9066)
  • The Best Of Divine: Native Love - (1991, "O" Records, HTCD 16-2)
  • The 12" Collection - (1993, Unidisc Music Inc., SPLK-7098)
  • Jungle Jezebel - (1994, "O" Records, HTCD 6609)
  • The Cream Of Divine - (1994, Pickwick Group Ltd., PWKS 4228) UK compilation featuring the Proto label 12" versions.
  • Born To Be Cheap - (1994, Anagram Records, CDMGRAM 84) - Live album.
  • Shoot Your Shot - (1995, Mastertone Multimedia Ltd., AB 3013)
  • The Remixes - (1996, Avex UK, AVEXCD 29) - new remixes by Jon of the Pleased Wimmin, Mark Moore, Hybrid, Checkpoint Charlie, Hyper Go Go, & Aquarius.
  • The Originals - (1996, Avex UK, AVEXCD 30)
  • The Best Of Divine - (1997, Delta Music, 21 024)
  • Greatest Hits - (2005, Unidisc Music Inc., SPLK-8004)
  • The Greatest Hits - (2005, Forever Gold, FG351) - Dutch compilation featuring some rare mixes.
  • Greatest Hits: The Originals and the Remixes - (2009, Dance Street Records, DST 77226-2) - US 2CD reissue of the 1996 Avex UK CDs.


Year Title Peak chart positions Album
U.S. Dance
1981 "Born To Be Cheap” Non-album single
1982 "Native Love (Step By Step) 28 21 The Story So Far
1983 "Shoot Your Shot" 15 9 7 8 39
"Love Reaction" 65 55 25
"Shake It Up" 82 26 13
1984 "You Think You're A Man" 16 32 8 27 9
"I'm So Beautiful" 52 38 48
"T Shirts and Tight Blue Jeans" Maid in England
1985 "Walk Like A Man" 23 52 28
"Twistin' the Night Away" 47
"Hard Magic" 87
1987 "Little Baby"
"Hey You!"



  1. ^ Obituary in People. 21 March 1988.
  2. ^ Jay 1993. p. 6.
  3. ^ a b ""Divine" biography". The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/person/19335/Divine/biography. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  4. ^ Thornquist, Paul (March 1988). Letter to The New York Post.
  5. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 28.
  6. ^ Jay 1993. p. 13.
  7. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 07-08.
  8. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 07.
  9. ^ a b c d e Kaltenbach 2009.
  10. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 08-09.
  11. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 09.
  12. ^ a b Jay 1993. p. 14.
  13. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 14-15.
  14. ^ Jay 1993. p. 15.
  15. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 27.
  16. ^ Jay 1993. p. 15.
  17. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 24.
  18. ^ Jay 1993. p. 17.
  19. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 18-19.
  20. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 35, 40.
  21. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 04.
  22. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 02, 35, 44.
  23. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 19-21.
  24. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 43-44.
  25. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 35.
  26. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 45.
  27. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 45.
  28. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 01.
  29. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 46.
  30. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 46.
  31. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 45-46.
  32. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 23-24.
  33. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 45-46.
  34. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 47.
  35. ^ a b c Jay 1993. p. 25.
  36. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 47-48.
  37. ^ Jay 1993. p. 21.
  38. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 59.
  39. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 49.
  40. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 50.
  41. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 56-57.
  42. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 53-54.
  43. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 55.
  44. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 28-31.
  45. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 26-27.
  46. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 51-52.
  47. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 27-28.
  48. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 02.
  49. ^ Jay 1993. p. 33.
  50. ^ Jay 1993. p. 35.
  51. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 358-41
  52. ^ Jay 1993. p. 43.
  53. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 70-75.
  54. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 113-123.
  55. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 129, 136, 172 and 182.
  56. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 93-100.
  57. ^ Jay 1993. p. 110.
  58. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. pp. 02 and 05.
  59. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 143-145.
  60. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 150-154 and 178.
  61. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 164-165.
  62. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 179-181.
  63. ^ Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (DVD). 1428 Films. 2010. Event occurs at 2:49:46. "The original person who was supposed to do that role was the great Divine, who had passed away right before we started shooting." 
  64. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 137-139.
  65. ^ a b Jay 1993. p. 105.
  66. ^ Jay 1993. p. 171.
  67. ^ Jay 1993. p. 151.
  68. ^ Jay 1993. p. 184.
  69. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 199-200.
  70. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 216-217.
  71. ^ Jay 1993. p. 128.
  72. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. 38.
  73. ^ Jay 1993. p. 90.
  74. ^ Interview with Divine (17 May 1983). The New York Daily News.
  75. ^ Jay 1993. p. 3.
  76. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 126 and 56.
  77. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 101-104.
  78. ^ Jay 1993. p. 203.
  79. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 197-198.
  80. ^ Jay 1993. p. 199.
  81. ^ Jay 1993. p. 200.
  82. ^ Milstead, Heffernan and Yeager 2001. p. preface.
  83. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 55-57.
  84. ^ Jay 1993. p. 206
  85. ^ Jay 1993. pp. 146-147.
  86. ^ Milstead, Frances; Heffernan, Kevin; Yeager, Steve (2001). My Son Divine. Los Angeles: Alyson Books. ISBN 1-55583-594-5. 
  87. ^ [1]
  88. ^ Entertainment Weekly: DVD Review The Little Mermaid
  89. ^ New Order Biography, Quest Records, April 1993
  90. ^ Divine - My First Album at Discogs. Discogs.com (2004-11-07). Retrieved on 2010-09-09.
  91. ^ Divine - Jungle Jezebel at Discogs. Discogs.com. Retrieved on 2010-09-09.
  92. ^ Divine - Maid In England (CD, Album) at Discogs. Discogs.com (2010-03-05). Retrieved on 2010-09-09.
  93. ^ "Divine". chartstats.com. http://www.chartstats.com/artistinfo.php?id=3934. Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  94. ^ Divine - Singles Media Control Charts. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  95. ^ Divine - Discography Austrian Charts Online. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  96. ^ Divine - Discography Dutch Charts Online. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  97. ^ Divine - Discography New Zealand Charts Online. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  98. ^ Divine - Discography Swiss Charts Online. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  99. ^ Divine - Billboard Singles Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-06-10.


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