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Ethyl Eichelberger (born James Roy Eichelberger, July 17, 1945 – August 12, 1990) was an American drag performer, playwright, and actor. He became an influential figure in experimental theater and writing, and performed nearly forty plays. He became more widely known as a commercial actor in the 1980s.
Ethyl Eichelberger was born James Roy Eichelberger on July 17, 1945 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. He 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. At the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, Eichelberger met Black-Eyed Susan (actor), who became a close friend. In 1987 he wrote his play Saint Joan for Black-Eyed Susan, following the death of Charles Ludlam.
He often performed solo works in free verse based on the lives of the grandes dames of history, including Lucrezia Borgia, Jocasta, Medea, Lola Montez, Nefertiti, Clytemnestra, and Carlotta, Empress of Mexico. "I wanted to play the great roles but who would cast me as Medea?", he mused late in life in Extreme Exposure: An Anthology of Solo Performance Texts from the Twentieth Century. His 1984 play Leer distilled Shakespears's King Lear into 3 characters, all played by Eichelberger. Such 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.
PETER HUJAR (1934-1987) Ethyl Eichelberger. Silver print, the image measuring 371.5x374.7 mm; 14 5/8x14 3/4 inches, the sheet 508x406.4 mm; 20x16 inches, with Hujar's signature, title, date, edition notation 4/15, and numerical notation, in ink, on verso. 1981. Provenance: Acquired directly from the photographer; to a private New York collector. Exhibited in the landmark exhibition "Peter Hujar: Speed of Life," The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, January 26-May 20, 2018.
Verso: in pencil, "Ethyl Eichelberger, 1982, 979-7-7, ED 1/5"; signed in pencil, "Peter Hujar"; stamp, "From the Estate #"; in pencil, "EPH 545-1"; in pencil, "HUJ 202".
Verso: stamp, "The Estate of Peter Hujar, Stephen Koch Executor, Printed by the Artist"; stamp, "Copyright 1987, The Estate of Peter Hujar, Not to be Reproduced Without Written Permission from the Estate"; stamp, "From the Estate #"; in pencil, "EPH 549-1"; in pen 33 1/2%"; signed in pencil, "Stephen Koch"; in pencil, "Ethyl Eichelberger in Netted Stockings"; in pencil, "HUJ 197".
Verso: stamp, "The Estate of Peter Hujar, Stephen Koch Executor, Printed by the Artist"; stamp, "Copyright 1987, the Estate of Peter Hujar, Not to be Reproduced in Any Form without Written Permission from the Estate"; stamp, "From the Estate # [pencil] 833-7-7"; in pencil, "EPH 1291-1"; in pencil, "Enthyl Nude I, 1978"; signed in pencil, "Stepeh Koch"; in pencil, "HUJ.223".
American Academy of Dramatic Arts
He became more widely known as a commercial actor in the 1980s, appearing with The Flying Karamazov Brothers on Broadway in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, and with Sting in The Threepenny Opera. He also appeared as a cast member of the HBO variety series Encyclopedia.
He was diagnosed with AIDS and was unable to tolerate the available medications. He committed suicide by slashing his wrists in his Staten Island home, according to friends and the city medical examiner's office. Only after his suicide did it become widely known that he was ill.
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