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Autopsy Inconclusive on Divine; Director Pays Tribute

March 9, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A preliminary autopsy on the body of 300-pound female impersonator Divine, star of the cult film classic ″Pink Flamingos,″ failed to pinpoint a cause of death, coroner’s officials said.

The 42-year-old actor, whose real name was Harris Glenn Milstead, was found dead in his bed Monday at the Hollywood Regency Plaza Hotel.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office has ordered a microscopic examination of tissue samples, but preliminary tests taken Tuesday showed no signs of trauma or any other factor that would have contributed to the actor’s death, coroner’s spokesman Steve Stewart said.

Drugs and alcohol are unlikely to have caused the death of Milstead, his manager said. Publicist John West of PMK said the actor apparently died of asphyxiation.

John Waters, director of ″Hairspray″ and ″Pink Flamingos″ who grew up with Milstead in Baltimore, read a tribute to his friend Tuesday afternoon at a downtown Baltimore hotel.

″Not only did I respect him as the best actor I’ve ever worked with, I knew him personally as a kind and gentle man,″ Waters said, his voice catching. ″A huge portion of the success of my film is owed him. ... Divine is as irreplaceable to me as a member of my own family. I’ll miss him incredibly.″

Manager Bernard Jay said Milstead had a long-term weight problem, but except for that was found to be in excellent health during a medical checkup last Friday.

″He was not on drugs at all, and he never drank alcohol,″ Jay said. ″I suppose it all comes down to his weight. He was constantly trying to diet, but as soon as he’d take the pounds off, they’d come right back on again.″

Milstead was in town to appear in an episode of ″Married ... With Children,″ a Fox Television Network series.

He had been pleased over critical praise for his role in ″Hairspray″ as Edna Turnblad, the fat mother of a fat teen-age girl.

″He’d call me in the middle of the night to read me some newspaper interview and say, ″Isn’t it wonderful 3/8 They called me Divine, the 300-pound actor, not Divine, the 300-pound transvestite,″ Jay said.

A native of Lutherville, Md., Milstead’s came to fame as the bizarre star of ″Pink Flamingos,″ ″Lust in the Dust,″ ″Polyester″ and ″Female Trouble.″

Milstead played one full non-transvestite role in his career, that of a Sydney Greenstreet-type character in the 1985 film ″Trouble In Mind.″

Besides film roles, Milstead also used the Divine persona in a nightclub act.

Waters said that the last time he had spoken to Divine was two days ago, and he had last seen him at the premiere of ″Hairspray″ in New York City.

In their last conversations, Waters said, ″he was just so happy. He said ’Can you believe we came this far?‴

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