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Ethyl Eichelberger

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Ethyl Eichelberger (July 17, 1945 - August 12, 1990) was an American drag performer, playwright and actor.

Born James Roy Eichelberger in Pekin, Illinois, he attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in 1967. For seven years he was the lead character actor at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island, then returned to New York, changed his name to Ethyl, and became a member of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, acting and designing wigs.

He became an influential figure in experimental theater, writing and performing nearly forty plays, often solo works in free verse based on the lives of the grand dames of history including Lucrezia Borgia, Jocasta, Medea, Lola Montez, Nefertiti, Clytemnestra, and Carlotta, Empress of Mexico. His 1984 play Leer distilled Shakespears's King Lear into 3 characters, all played by Eichelberger and premiered at 8BC

These works are rarely revived, as they require a solo performer capable of accompanying himself on the accordion, eating fire, turning cartwheels, and doing splits and other acrobatic feats.

He became more widely known as a commercial actor in the 1980s, appearing with The Flying Karamazov Brothers on Broadway in William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors and with Gordon Sumner(Sting) in The Threepenny Opera.

He was diagnosed with AIDS and was unable to tolerate the available medications. Only after his suicide did it become widely known that he was ill.


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