Legendary performer Angel Walker passed away April, 11 2019. Her fierce legacy lives on.
Angel Walker commanded the stage as the fire-twirling burlesque queen Satan’s Angel, the Devil’s Own Mistress and Queen of the Fire Tassels. She launched her career in 1960s San Francisco before taking her act to Las Vegas. Walker put her tassels down when the artform’s popularity declined but shimmied her way back onstage in the early ’00s as burlesque experienced a revival. She spent the following years lighting her breasts on fire while training a new generation of performers, including many here in L.A.
Walker, who called Palm Springs home, died in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 11 at the age of 74 following an illness.
News of the revered performer’s death spread through the international burlesque community like wildfire. The loss is deep in Los Angeles. Among those offering tributes was actor David Arquette, who worked with her on a TV pilot.
“We lost #SatansAngel my TV mom,” he tweeted on April 12. “I will never forget you and your flaming breasts. Here she is well … Being her true self. I will love you forever.”
“Satan’s Angel is like a burlesque Elvis to a lot of people,” says Chris Beyond, producer of Peepshow Menagerie in Los Angeles and co-producer of the Burlesque Hall of Fame Photo Safari in Las Vegas.
Walker was a familiar presence in the L.A. scene and had been involved in the Hollywood Burlesque Festival since its inception in 2013. Lili VonSchtupp, a producer of the weekend-long event, says the 2019 festival will include an award, “Most Flammable,” given in Walker’s honor on Saturday, June 1, as well as a moment of silence. In addition, VonSchtupp and Walker’s partner, Vic Crotwell, will host a celebration of life in Los Angeles on Walker’s birthday this September.
VonSchtupp first saw Walker perform in Los Angeles in the early 2000s.
“She came in like a force into my world,” VonSchtupp says. “When I saw her on the stage and I saw this exuberant woman who was over 50, presenting burlesque the way that it was done before, it changed my whole perspective on everything.”
Walker was a regular at VonSchtupp’s long-running — but now shuttered — burlesque revue, Monday Night Tease. Sometimes, they faced minor adversities. Like when they were unable to secure a permit for Walker’s blazing performance. Not one to let triviality dampen the mood, however, Satan’s Angel led the crowd outside. VonSchtupp laughs as she recalls the sight of her audience leaving the Hollywood venue to watch Walker “set her boobs on fire” in a nearby parking lot.
Fire was her calling card. She crafted tasseled pasties that she could set ablaze and spin onstage, but, live flames were only part of her routine.
“Her performance was a little bit like a powerhouse,” says fellow performer Francesca Kitten Natividad. “She held your attention from the minute she stepped onstage until she was finished. Even if she wasn’t doing anything, you had to stare at her because you didn’t want to miss whatever she was going to do.”
She shared the technical details behind her fire work with few and sanctioned only a handful of performers in various parts of the world to carry the torch. For many others, Walker taught the classic style of burlesque.
“She was committed to teaching it and committed to spreading the word of burlesque and educating the younger people of classic burlesque,” says Joshua Dragotta, director of the documentary “Satan’s Angel.”
The documentary, which premiered at Outfest in 2012, recounts Walker’s life and career. Born in 1944, Walker was raised in San Francisco and got her start at local amateur nights. She was badly injured in a motorcycle accident early in her career pushing her to change the style of her performance. But it didn’t hinder her ambition. Walker would go on to develop her famed fire routine and become a regular performer on the Las Vegas Strip while also performing regularly in L.A. and internationally.
“Her performance was a little bit like a powerhouse. She held your attention from the minute she stepped onstage until she was finished. Even if she wasn’t doing anything, you had to stare at her because you didn’t want to miss whatever she was going to do.”
Francesca Kitten Natividad, burlesque dancer
She became a burlesque icon for more than her fiery style. Walker identified as a lesbian and is considered a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ performers.
“I think the biggest influence she had was visibility,” says VonSchtupp, recalling Walker’s stories about discrimination against lesbian performers. “That’s pioneering in a scene that was especially so known for the male gaze.”
Walker’s popularity caught early on, but her reputation burned brighter in the second act of her life.
“I think she’s a bigger star now than when she was young,” Natividad says. “And I think it’s because she had more knowledge … and she had been through a lot in her life.”
In early April, Walker shared on Facebook that she was going into the hospital with a bout of pneumonia. While originally hospitalized in Palm Springs, she was later moved to a facility in Los Angeles for further treatment, VonSchtupp says. She died on the evening of April 11, 2019. Walker is survived by Crotwell, as well as her mother Connie Lobo, brother Dennis and sister-in-law Alexis.
“She’s lived so many lives, she got her money’s worth in this one,” Dragotta says. “One could only be so lucky to live a life like Angel.”