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Alexis Arquette’s Life as a Trans Star, LGBT Activist and More

Gone but never forgotten. Alexis Arquette died at age 47 on Sunday, September 11, her brother Richmond Arquette confirmed. Alexis, who was best known for playing a Boy George-inspired character in 1998’s The Wedding Singer, spent the majority of her time in the spotlight advocating for LGBT rights and shedding light on issues affecting the transgender community.

The actress (born Robert Arquette) was part of one of Hollywood’s most famous families. In addition to brother Richmond, she was the sibling of David Arquette, Rosanna Arquette and Oscar-winning actress Patricia Arquette. Her parents were actress Brenda Olivia “Mardi” and actor-director Lewis Arquette. The creative couple raised their brood on a religious commune in Virginia.

In 2006, Alexis began a symbolic (but never surgical) male to female transition, an experience which was documented in the 2007 documentary Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother. Though Alexis previously chose to be referred to as a woman, she began to identify as “gender suspicious” in recent years, according to brother David.

Back in February, the Scream alum, 45, appeared on Khloé Kardashian’s former talk show, Kocktails With Khloé, where he explained that Caitlyn Jenner’s transition inspired Alexis’ decision to veer away from the trans label.

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“She was like, ‘Yeah, sometimes I’ll be a man, sometimes I’ll be a woman. I like to refer to myself as gender suspicious,'” David told Kardashian (Jenner’s former stepdaughter) of his “wild” sibling. “I said, ‘You’re my sister and brother?’ [Alexis] said, ‘It depends on how I’m dressed.'”

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He added: “I think because of Caitlyn, she’s like, ‘I did that already. Now let’s take it to the next level.’” 

Alexis Arquette
Alexis Arquette attends the SAG Awards Afterparty & Charity Benefit for the Victims of Haiti on January 23, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Alexis’ brother Richmond penned an touching Facebook post elaborating her gender fluidity. “Our brother Robert, who became our brother Alexis, who became our sister Alexis, who became our brother Alexis, passed this morning September 11, at 12:32 am,” he wrote on Sunday morning. “He was surrounded by all of his brothers and sisters, one of his nieces and several other loved ones. We were playing music for him and he passed during David Bowie’s Starman. As per his wishes, we cheered at the moment that he transitioned to another dimension.”

Despite the change, Alexis (whose cause of death has not yet been confirmed) never once turned her back on the LGBT community. The Los Angeles resident — who landed her first significant acting gig at 19 years old as a transvestite named Georgette in 1989’s Last Exit to Brooklyn — was a vocal supporter of pal Chaz Bono, Cher’s eldest child, who transitioned from female to male between 2008 and 2010.

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During a 2009 interview with Entertainment Tonight, Alexis explained that her decision to come out and transition in the public eye was part of a conscious effort to raise awareness. “Coming out as transgender in America from a celebrity family is a lot easier than it can be for private individuals anywhere else in the world,” the outspoken star said at the time. “In fact, if you come out as transgender in certain parts of the world, you may be murdered in the street.”

Hours after Alexis passed away, the Arquette siblings took to Facebook on Sunday to pay tribute. In their emotional post, they noted that Alexis never said yes to a part if she felt it could be potentially hurtful to trans people.

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“Alexis was a brilliant artist and painter, a singer, an entertainer and an actor. She starred in movies like Last Exit to Brooklyn, Pulp Fiction, Jumpin’ at the Boneyard, Of Mice and Men, The Wedding Singer, and The Bride of Chucky,” they wrote. “Her career was cut short, not by her passing, but by her decision to live her truth and her life as a transgender woman. Despite the fact that there are few parts for trans actors, she refused to play roles that were demeaning or stereotypical. She was a vanguard in the fight for understanding and acceptance for all trans people.”

Alexis Arquette The Wedding Singer
Alexis Arquette in ‘The Wedding Singer.’

Alexis — who once worked as a toy designer for Mattel before finding success in the entertainment industry — always marched to her own beat. In 2008, her sister Patricia opened up to the Los Angeles Times about Alexis’ colorful childhood.

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“I remember Alexis growing up, and we’d be in school in kindergarten, and they’d say, ‘Get in line, boys here, girls here.’ Alexis would always get in the girls’ line,” the Boyhood star recounted. “I remember Alexis getting dressed in drag at 4.”

Patricia went on to say that she once thought Alexis was a gay male until her younger sister offered clarification one day: “That’s not what’s different about me, it’s not that I’m a gay man. It’s that I’m in the wrong body: I am a woman.”

Alexis Arquette David Arquette Patricia Arquette Richmond Arquette Rosanna Arquette
Alexis Arquette, David Arquette, Patricia Arquette, Richmond Arquette and Rosanna Arquette.

On Sunday, Patricia honored her late sibling with two tweets of Alexis’ favorite songs: David Bowie’s “Starman” and T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer.””Breaking through the veil singing StarMan,” the Academy Award recipient tweeted, adding, “To My first best friend – Cosmic Dancer.”

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David also paid respect by tweeting, “Thank you all for your love and kind words about Alexis. My hero for eternity.”

Most likely making Alexis so heroic in her brother’s eyes was her courageous dedication to living her most authentic life no matter what others might think. “I wore makeup since I was 12, but [my family wasn’t] so much in denial as their fear was that if I came out as transgender and lived my life as a woman, that I might receive a lot of flak from people on the street,” she told CNN in 2009. “… I have a hard time always holding back when it comes to my anger towards those who are unaccepting of those who are different.”

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