While the list of genre actors lost to AIDS is long (Anthony Perkins – Psycho…; Christopher Stryker – Hell High; Merritt Butrick – Star Trek 2, Death Spa, Fright Night 2; Tom Villard – Popcorn, Parasite; David Oliver – The Horror Show, Night of the Creeps; Tom McBride – Friday the 13th, Part Two), there is definitely one notable starlet, and Big Gay Horror Fan favorite, who lost her life to the insidious disease.
Best known (to the public at large) for playing the original Brenda Clegg (a role, also subsequently, played by Hellraiser’s Ashley Laurence and Gimme An F’s Karen Kelly) on the early 80’s soap opera Capital, darkly beautiful actress Leslie Graves starting giving wise beyond her years performances as a child with guest appearances in the early 70’s on Sesame Street and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Coming off smartly sassy with an eternal rebel’s edge, Graves is best known to horror fans, though; as Ricky Paull Goldin’s (The Blob, Mirror, Mirror) rough and tumble love interest in debuting James Cameron’s 1981’s so awful its delicious Piranha II. With an attitude sharper than any flying monstrosity’s teeth, it is no surprise that Graves’ Allison made it to the film’s limb blown ending.
Unfortunately, the toughness Graves exhibited on screen masked a seemingly depressive heart and, various sources report, that when Capital co-star and mother figure, Carolyn Jones, died from cancer, Graves entered a downward spiral that ended with her being fired, after two years of heartfelt work, from the soap in the summer of 1984. Periodicals, at the time, named stress as the reason, but it has been since widely reported that she was dismissed after collapsing on set due to heroin use.
Besides a nude layout (of which she had done several) in the fall of 1984, Graves next major public statement was the announcement of her death, due to AIDS complications, in 1995. (In a sad twist of irony, actor Bill Beyers, best known to B Movie fans as James Spader’s ‘perfect ‘ brother in Tuff Turf, who played Graves’ onscreen soul mate in Capital, died of AIDS in 1992, as well.)
While the celluloid legacy (which includes a small role in the notorious Death Wish 2) she left behind is small, anyone who recalls Graves’ naturally rambunctious performances is sure to speak of her with a fond heart. BGHF, for one, always will.
To witness Graves, in her youth in aggressively fun action, check out this link to her The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode:
And ‘til next time –
Sweet love and pink Grue,
Big Gay Horror Fan