Three years ago, on Sept. 11, 2016, transgender actress Alexis Arquette, who would have turned 50 this past July, died of complications from AIDS. In her final moments, Alexis was comforted by the music of David Bowie, requesting that “Starman” be played at her bedside. But it was Tom Petty who comforted Alexis’s sister, actress and activist Rosanna Arquette, during this difficult time.
“Tom was a great, great friend of mine,” Rosanna tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume. “The night Alexis died, I went to the beach and stayed across the street from where Tom lived. And I got a phone call from [Tom’s older daughter] Adria. She said, ‘Dad wants you to come over.’ So I go over and he's there in his pajamas, and his family was around. And he goes, ‘Come in the studio with me,’ and took me down. I sat in the chair and he put on — this was so amazing — the Heartbreakers doing Byrds songs. It was insane, it was killer, it was so good. And that was the best gift. Tom knew I was sad about Alexis, and he was really there. That music, I felt like that was Alexis, she we loved rock ‘n’ roll. It was actually Alexis giving me that gift.”
Almost exactly a year later, on Sept. 25, 2017, Rosanna attended what tragically turned out to be Petty’s last-ever concert at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl. “The last song he did was ‘American Girl,’ and there was a gigantic picture of Alexis [on the video screen]. So that was such a beautiful gift,” Rosanna recalls.
President Trump had recently proposed banning transgender citizens from serving in the U.S. military, so Petty’s inclusion of Alexis during his finales on his 2017 concert tour was profound.
A week after Petty’s Hollywood Bowl show, Rosanna was with his daughters, Adria and Annakim, when he passed away. It was a really horrible, horrible time,” she says softly.
Rosanna knows Alexis would have loved Petty’s tribute, because Alexis “loved rock ‘n’ roll.” Alexis’s first acting job, at age 12, was playing the boy on the carnival ride in the Tubes’ “She’s a Beauty” music video, a major MTV hit in 1983. Alexis was also a popular cabaret artist on the Los Angeles club circuit (sometimes performing as the drag alter ego Eva Destruction), and was a regular at the hugely popular late-‘90s/early-2000s glam nightspot Club Makeup, which hosted all-star revues featuring Linda Perry, the Cult, Ice-T, Marilyn Manson, Ann Magnuson, Gilby Clarke, and others.
“Alexis was an icon and broke all barriers,” says Rosanna, noting that the common use of plural pronouns by transgender people – “they/them” instead of “he/him” or “she/her” — wasn’t as common at the time of Alexis’s death. “In the end, Alexis was like, it doesn't matter [which pronoun you use]. There weren't even pronouns, you know, ‘them’ and ‘they’ — that came in the last couple of years, really strongly, where it's in out in the zeitgeist and we all get it. Alexis lived that. Alexis was the ‘they’ before there were ‘theys.’ Alexis was both. We called her ‘she,’ but at the end she said it doesn't matter, so I think Alexis probably would really embrace ‘they’ right now.”
Rosanna reveals that her sister, Patricia Arquette, is currently writing a book about Alexis. Meanwhile, Rosanna is working on a documentary about child abuse with Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Hegerof of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP); the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation and VIP recently founded a partnership called the Alexis Project, through which queer youth can safely find specialized medical and mental health practitioners.
The above interview is taken from Rosanna Arquette’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.
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