Rumi Missabu, Avant-Garde Drag Performer Who Glittered, Dies at 76

Rumi Missabu, an avant-garde drag performer who was best known as a member of the anarchic, glitter-encrusted, hippie-drag troupe known as the Cockettes, which bloomed briefly at the turn of the 1970s in San Francisco, died on April 2 at his home in Oakland, Calif. He was 76.

His death, from complications of chronic respiratory disease, was announced by Griffin Cloudwalker, a friend.

For a moment, the Cockettes were the bohemian darlings of San Francisco. Their members were a diverse collective that included Rumi, a voluble drama student from Los Angeles. Like many in the group, he went by his adopted first name only. And like so many in the late 1960s, he had fetched up in the Haight-Ashbury district, drawn there by the alluring swirl of spiritual questing, political activism, experimental theater, free love and psychedelics.

The Cockettes lived communally in the derelict Victorian houses there and devoted themselves to self-expression. Their bodies were their canvases, which they bedecked in feather boas, tutus, corsets, Victorian petticoats, Edwardian frock coats, wigs, wings, headdresses, ribbons, sequins, rhinestones, satin, face paint and an abundance of glitter.

Their leader was a young actor named George Harris III who had made his way from New York City to San Francisco in 1967, the same year he was famously captured by the photojournalist Bernie Boston at an antiwar protest, tucking flowers into the barrels of the rifles held by the military police. In San Francisco, he transformed into Hibiscus, a show-tune-loving mystic with flowing hair and a glitter-coated beard — “like Jesus with lipstick” is how one Cockette described him. He gathered his friends first into street theater, then onto the stage of the Palace Theater in North Beach, where the Cockettes made their debut on New Year’s Eve in 1969.

Rumi, right, and his fellow Cockette Hibiscus in costume for the 1970 production of “Pearls Over Shanghai.”Credit…David Wise

Related Articles

Back to top button