People: Hibiscus & the Cockettes

The Cockettes were the first of their kind: an avant-garde psychedelic hippie theater troupe, acid-fueled and bawdy drag queens who lived their lives as one extended performance. Layered in abundant make-up, grandmas dresses, costume jewelry, and the occasional fruit basket, the queens burst onto the San Francisco scene for a series of storied, free midnight musicals in the late 60s. While individual members would achieve their own fame (like B-movie queen Divine), none were as notable as their bearded leader, Hibiscus.

Hibiscus was born George Edgerly Harris III in 1949, to two theatrically inclined parents. At a young age, he and his siblings formed a children’s theater troupe, and after relocating to NYC he began starring in commercials, musical numbers and off-broadway plays — including Peace Creeps, with Al Pacino and James Earl Jones. As an adult, he became active in the anti-war movement, protesting the USA’s presence in Vietnam. Hibiscus is the hippie pictured placing flowers in the soldier’s rifles in Bernie Boston’s Flower Power, a photo now synonymous with the era.

In 1969 he moved to San Francisco with Irving Rosenthal, the latter founding the storied Kaliflower commune and Free Print Shop (where George lived). Using drag, drugs, and performance as an avenue for spiritual and gay liberation, George became Hibiscus. Kaliflower attracted a group of like-minded people, and from there, the Cockettes were born.

When the Cockettes wanted to charge money for their shows, Hibiscus refused, believing that all performances should be free. He left the Cockettes to found the Angels of Light, who put on free shows in both San Francisco and New York City. In New York, he produced multiple off-broadway shows, some running for years.

Hibiscus passed away from AIDS-related complications on May 6th, 1982.