Happy birthday wishes to Nelson Sullivan – our patron saint, our spiritual father, our daily inspiration, and our beloved guiding light. The video artist who created an archive of some 3000 hours of ’80s-era New York clubland before collapsing and dying on the 4th of July, 1989, was a long-time friend and mentor to many here at WOW, including WOW founders Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.
“When New York City’s dilapidated downtown was starting to wake up and smell the cocaine, the South Carolina expatriate Nelson Sullivan had already quit his music-store job, moved into an old building in the Meatpacking District, and begun videotaping 24/7 what would become the city’s most decadent decade: the 1980s. With his old-school camcorder strapped to his shoulder like a third arm, Nelson manouvered through streets and past doormen, getting up-close and personal with the big and small stars of the new scene, all the while providing a continuous chatty narration in his southern drawl, y’all. He was always welcome, whether it was backstage with the Pyramid drag queens, at Limelight with the clubkids, or visiting Sylvia Miles in her kitchen. Everyone felt comfortable talking to him and his camera. Over the course of his short life (after making an eerily prophetic tape sitting by the Hudson River on July 3, 1989, he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 41 the next day), he had amassed nearly 3,000 hours of tape, the footage including the likes of everyone from Andy Warhol to Keith Haring to Ethyl Eichelberger to Cookie Mueller to Deee-Lite to a not-yet-famous RuPaul (always a delight!) to drag queen Christina and other denizens of the Chelsea Hotel to anyone who was anyone, which in those days was everyone.”
Nelson Sullivan’s World of Wonder, a 1994 doc that aired on UK’s Channel 4, celebrates his life and work. It features downtown luminaries as John Sex, RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Dean Johnson, Quentin Crisp and more, cavorting for the camera in their natural habitat, and generally just being their gorgeous, unguarded, iconic selves.
Others included in the film are:
Michael Musto, Christina, Sylvia Miles, Kenny Kenny, Alexis del Lago, Albert Crudo, Michael Alig, La Homa Van Zandt, Larry Tee, Tish and Snooky, Lizard Soufflé, Brandy Wine, Lady Hennessy Brown, Blackout (his dog), Brant Mewborn and Rhonda, Wendy Wild, Eddie and Naomi, Trade, Radical Faeries, George Wayne, and Steve Lewis.
It’s a pretty amazing chronicle of a lost time in New York City’s history.
You can watch the entire documentary on WOW Presents Plus HERE.
In another exclusive clip, Nelson, Ru, Lahoma, Larry Tee,and Trade (awww, Trade!) all go to the 1989 Pride parade in NYC, where they encounter some Radical Faeiries, Manhattan Cable legend Sybil Bruncheon, and the late jewelry designer David Spada (the unidentified shirtless man in the swirly jewelry).
You can watch THAT one HERE.
Finally, we have a sweetly nostalgic clip of Nelson celebrating his 38th birthday with friends Michael Musto, designer Albert Crudo, and photographer Lizard Soufflé.
And you can watch THAT one HERE.
And for more exclusive WOW documentaries, subscribe now to WOW Presents Plus. Start your FREE ONE-MONTH TRIAL today! Then, it’s just $3.99 a month for the best of Pop, Doc, Drag, and original LGBT Programming! YAY!
You can also find the Nelson Sullivan video archive at the 5thAveProject curated by Nelson’s old pal Robert Coddington.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NELSON! WE LOVE YOU AND WILL NEVER, EVER, EVER FORGET YOU!