Pepper LaBeija

Pepper LaBeija
Born William Jackson
(1948-11-05)November 5, 1948
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Died May 14, 2003(2003-05-14) (aged 54)
Manhattan, New York
Cause of death Heart attack
Nationality American

Pepper LaBeija (November 5, 1948 – May 14, 2003) was an American drag queen and fashion designer. LaBeija was known as "the last remaining queen of the Harlem drag balls".

Early life and career

LaBeija was born William Jackson in The Bronx.[1] While LaBeija often presented as male, she preferred to be referred to by the feminine pronoun she.[2] Around 1971, she took over from Crystal LaBeija as the head of the ball culture House of LaBeija (from which her surname was derived). She remained the head (known as "the Mother") for over 30 years.[1]

LaBeija competed in numerous drag balls and was known for her "Egyptian effect" runway performances.[3] Over the course of her career, she won approximately 250 trophies. To earn money, she also produced drag balls and taught modeling.[2] LaBeija is best known for her appearances in the documentary films Paris Is Burning (1990) and How Do I Look (2006).

Later years and death

LaBeija went on to meet her companion Pamela Jackson and from this union they had a daughter. LaBeija (William) spent much of her time being lovingly devoted to her family. Raising her daughter and stepson. In 1992 LaBeija’s companion died and diabetes started to take a toll on LaBeija. While still a devoted parent, their children had to live with their maternal grandmother while LaBeija tried to maintain her health.

LaBeija suffered from diabetes mellitus type 2 and had both feet amputated as a result. She was largely bedridden for the last 10 years of her life. On May 14, 2003, LaBeija died of a heart attack at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan at the age of 54.[1]

Malcolm McLaren quoted LaBeija in 1989 song and music video "Deep in Vogue", a tribute to the New York gay balls of the 1980s, runway competitions that involved dance, fashion and attitude.


  1. 1 2 3 Martin, Douglas (May 26, 2003). "Pepper LaBeija, Queen of Harlem Drag Balls, Is Dead at 53".
  2. 1 2 "Pepper LaBeija, 53; Queen of Drag Ball Scene in Harlem". May 29, 2003. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  3. Doonan, Simon (June 16, 2003). "Pater Is Burning! Rad Dads in Drag". Retrieved March 11, 2015.
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