Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Alig: The Life and Death of the Party

Introduction

Leigh Bowery
Leigh Bowery

When Club Kid Michael Alig joined his friends on Joan Rivers' talk show in 1990, he wasn't the most conspicuous of the group. That would have been Leigh Bowery, the London-based drag performance artist after whom the New York club kids were modeling themselves. Bowery, a gargantuan and imposing figure, was wearing an orange Afro-style wig that totally covered his face, giving him the look of a giant with a bushy circle for a head. As he made his way onto the stage, he waved to the crowd, who watched open-mouthed as the willfully freakish crew made their way onto the stage.

The other Club Kids — Ernie Glam, a nightlife reporter for The Village Voice, James St. James, an Alig associate, and Amanda Lepore, a transsexual party queen — did their best to shock the bourgeois Americans in the crowd with their outrageous outfits and rejection of conformity. Were it not for the fact that she had begun life as a man, Amanda Lepore would have been the most normal of the bunch — she hadn't yet gone overboard with plastic surgery. At this stage, she merely looked like a blonde version of Jessica Rabbit. Ernie Glam was dressed in a schoolboy-ish outfit—a matching striped shorts and top ensemble that was completed with a weird caged contraption that enclosed his face. James St. James was a warped re-imagining of a clown — he wore white face makeup and a large witch-like prosthetic nose, capping the look off with a g-string and leotard.

Michael Alig
Michael Alig

The ringleader, Michael Alig, by comparison, was relatively demure. He had painted his face red, and was also wearing schoolboy-ish shorts. The only thing that was really shocking about his outfit were his pants, with the seat cut away to expose his buttocks for all to see.

As the club kids sat and entertained the audience with their outrageous stories and tried to explain what it was like to be a fabulous Club Kid in New York in the early nineties to boring, straight America, the audience, it seemed, couldn't help but like them. The Club Kids giggled and argued that they were normal, except for the way they dressed. At the end of the segment, Joan Rivers gushed approvingly, "I think you want to have a good time in life and not hurt anybody. I think you're so cute. Come back again."

Six years later, though, those words would be proven fatally incorrect. Some of the Club Kids would turn out not to be so cute and far more dangerous than anyone would have imagined.

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