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July 19, 2019

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Tempest Storm: Dixie Evans was ‘one of a kind’ in the world of burlesque

Pin-Up Models

Leila Navidi

Burlesque legend Dixie Evans photographed at the GMG Studio in Henderson Monday, May 31, 2011.

Dixie Evans' 85th Birthday Celebration at Royal Resort

Satan's Angel performs in celebration of burlesque legend Dixie Evans' 85th birthday at the Royal Resort on Sept. 3, 2011.

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Burlesque Queen Dixie Evans

Dixie Evans in the 1950s as Launch slideshow »
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Burlesque legend Dixie Evans' 85th birthday celebration at the Royal Resort on Sept. 3, 2011. Evans, left, is pictured with Tempest Storm.

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Tempest Storm, Dixie Evans, Mayor Oscar Goodman, Holly Madison and reigning Miss Exotic World and Las Vegas resident Kalani Kokonuts during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum Grand Opening at Emergency Arts on East Fremont Street on June 4, 2010.

Tempest Storm says it was rare for Dixie Evans and her to appear in a theater at the same time.

It happened once, exactly.

“We were in the same show once at the Star Theater (in Portland, Ore.) a very long time ago. It was in the ’50s. But we never did appear on the same bill. I’d come in one week, and she’d come the next, or vice versa,” Storm said during a phone conversation Sunday night. “They knew we were going to sell out the room individually. It didn’t make business sense to bring us both in at the same time.”

Like Storm, Evans was considered royalty in the world of burlesque. The two were friends for many decades, and Storm was among Evans’ admirers who were saddened to learn of Evans’ death Saturday in Las Vegas at age 86. Evans had suffered a stroke in January that left her paralyzed on her right side. Since then, she had been residing and working a rehabilitation program in a Las Vegas assisted-living facility.

Known for her spot-on resemblance to, and parody of, Marilyn Monroe, Evans was perhaps the most famous figure in burlesque culture over the past half-century. She founded and operated the Exotic World Burlesque Museum & Striptease Hall of Fame, which sat on an abandoned goat farm in Helendale, Calif., on Route 66 between Barstow and Victorville. The museum was busting with rare burlesque items once owned by such legends as Gypsy Rose Lee, was the stage for annual pageants featuring many of the original stars of burlesque and drew a new order of performers in the sexy-stylish art form.

The museum showed appeal beyond those performers, too: Bono of U2 was among the celebrity visitors. “He almost bought out the entire gift shop,” Evans once recalled. Her sharp sense of humor was intact well into her 80s; two years ago, she commented that she had worked so hard on perfecting her Marilyn Monroe act on a couch with such energy that “I really gave that couch a workout.”

In 2006, Evans moved the museum to Vegas, where a small sampling of her artifacts is on display at Emergency Arts on Fremont East. She founded the Miss Exotic World Pageant at the Orleans and later hosted the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s 20th anniversary at the Plaza.

Evans’ 85th birthday celebration at Royal Resort drew the most famous performers in burlesque, but a year earlier, she found herself in the middle of a lawsuit involving promoters of the Burlesque Hall of Fame show at the Orleans and an offshoot produced by Frederic Apcar Jr. at the Plaza, which she endorsed. That case was settled when Abcar’s event agreed to name their show “The Dixie Evans Burlesque Show.”

Evans’ overarching hope, unrealized at the time of her death, was to establish a permanent museum of grand scale to show off her vast collection of costumes and artifacts. Nonetheless, Evans did revive the art of burlesque in Las Vegas.

“What Dixie did to promote burlesque, with the museum, helped keep it alive,” Storm said. “She had the ranch, but she needed to move to a place that was more suited to burlesque performance. She was really important that way. It was her passion.”

Such Vegas performers as Holly Madison, in her run as the star of “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood; Melody Sweets as the singing chanteuse in “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace; and, most recently, 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Year Claire Sinclair of “Pin Up” at Stratosphere have been inspired by Evans. So, obviously, has burlesque queen Kalani Kokonuts, a member of the Burlesque Hall of Fame who performs regularly at Sapphire Comedy Hour.

All responded to texts asking for comment about Evans’ death.

Madison said, “I am saddened to learn of Dixie's passing. She was such a remarkable, free-spirited woman. She was kind enough to film an episode of my television show with me a few years back, and she had my friends and me in stitches with all of her stories. I used to keep a signed head shot of Dixie's backstage in my ‘Peepshow’ dressing room as inspiration. She will be missed.”

From Sweets: “She was the sweetest li’l thang. She came to see ‘Absinthe’ last year and was the first person out of her seat with a standing ovation. Sassy, spritely and very sparkly. The burlesque community will not be the same without her.”

Said Sinclair, whose show is now opting to use the same sort of scant costuming made famous by Evans: “Dixie was and will always be a burlesque icon. She's inspired several generations of girls to become passionate about it as an art form. She also did so much to preserve the history of burlesque. She was beautiful, and she will truly be missed.”

From Kokonuts: "She was a bright, shining light and the inspiration for those of us who followed in her path she worked so tirelessly to forge. Dixie was fearless, and we loved her immensely."

Services for Evans are pending. The timing of her death is just weeks before she was to be celebrated at an all-star burlesque tribute event, dubbed “Dixie Evans Week,” at Yost Theater in Santa Ana, Calif., near Evans’ hometown of Long Beach. The event is still scheduled from Aug. 26-Sept. 1 coinciding with what would have been Evans’ 87th birthday on Aug. 26.

And Storm is headlining a burlesque reunion party and show Aug. 24 where it all started, at Star Theater in Portland. She remembers her last visit with Evans just weeks ago.

“Dixie was so full of life and so funny. She liked to laugh, and I said to her, ‘Don’t leave me in this cruel world because I’m not going with you.’ That cheered her up, and it made me feel good. We were really good friends. Dixie was one of a kind, believe me.”

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