Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Friends from Tampa to South Beach mourn drag queen

TAMPA — Anthony Jerome Lee, fatally shot Tuesday in East Tampa, was better known as "Wanda," a balloon-breasted drag queen famous for her Whitney Houston impersonations and penchant for being, well, a bit of a jerk.

She was big in South Beach in the '90s, where she had a regular Sunday performance at the now-closed club Amnesia. The crowd loved her show-stopping entrances, like the time she wore a dress made of tampons and jumped into a pool.

Wanda's "bad girl" reputation got her banned from many clubs, but she kept working, traveling the nation by bus and train, her long-sleeved, high-necked gowns neatly packed in dress bags.

Recently, though, Tampa was home. That is where Wanda, 44, was Tuesday evening, cooking dinner for a friend, when she heard a knock. Wanda answered the door to a gunman, who shot her five times, friends say.

Police have not named any suspects.

On Wednesday, the drag community, from Tampa to South Beach, Atlanta to Chicago, mourned a diva who may have had a prickly personality but was a loyal companion to those who weren't too scared to try.

What made her so good on stage was her comedy, said Kurt King, owner of Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City, where the striking 6-foot-6 Wanda used to host a talent night on Thursdays.

She would lip-synch Whitney Houston and put white powder on her nose, pretending to have recently snorted cocaine.

She wore wigs and gowns and exasperated friends by always blasting Houston's The Greatest Hits while putting on makeup.

She loved designer purses and kept receipts to prove they weren't fake.

Yet friends say Wanda, a rolling stone, never had a place of her own. She traveled so much and stayed with godmothers, godsisters, godbrothers. ("She had more god in her family than family," said friend Dale Wilson.)

Wilson, better known as Power Infiniti on stage, remembers meeting Wanda 17 years ago.

Wilson was new to the drag scene and was walking down Washington Avenue in South Beach when he passed Wanda, who was out of drag at that point.

Wanda started laughing — just laughing — at Wilson.

"She thought I looked a mess," Wilson recalled. "And, yeah, I had just started, so I probably did look a hot mess. But when a drag queen starts out, you can't tell her she doesn't look fabulous."

As Wilson got to know Wanda more, their sharp-tongued personalities somehow meshed. They became close friends.

Wanda was outgoing and crazy, but she also had a loyal streak, said her friend, Lazaro Leon, known as Adrenalyn Demornay. They worked together at Valentine's Nightclub near West Tampa several years ago.

"She was always crazy, but she was also very caring and there for you when you needed her," he said.

She could also cut down people and had no patience for misbehavior — or anyone who popped her giant balloon breasts.

"Wanda can be a certified b---- with a capital B," said her longtime friend, Henry Williams, also known as South Beach drag queen Tiffany Fantasia. "She was one of those people who could give you no fakeness, no phoniness. You got the real deal. She was a tough cookie, but once you got to know her, you fell in love with her."

He described Wanda as a mentor and inspiration — and as "the only person I know banned from practically every club in South Beach and coming back like nothing had happened."

"She would always get into a fight. I remember one time she was at Twist. I don't remember the details, but it involved a Bud Light and a bottle going over somebody's head," he said.

"Security walked her out. The next thing, security was on the floor and she got up and walked away, her wig in her hand."

Twice in the late '90s, clubs tried joining together to ban Wanda, hoping she would just go away. She didn't.

Wanda grew up in East Tampa. Over the years, she racked up a Florida arrest record, mainly for bad checks, but was charged with aggravated assault in 1993.

And though she had achieved fame in South Beach, she always seemed to return to her hometown. She could often be found hanging out at Wilson Funeral Home, where she used to work but now simply helped.

There, she dressed as Anthony, was referred to as a male and known by the nickname "Foots," likely earned because he was lanky and had large feet.

He was just there a couple of hours before his death, said funeral home manager and friend Wayne L. Bright.

"He was just hanging around, joking," Bright said. "I told him he missed his calling. He should have been a standup comedian, he was so funny."

Anthony Lee leaves three sisters and four brothers — "a family that loved him," said sister Barbara Lee-Thomas.

A funeral is still in the works, though Bright said he assumes Wilson Funeral Home will handle it. Hamburger Mary's will hold a fundraiser to pay for funeral costs. It will be June 6, on talent night.

Miami Herald staff writer Steve Rothaus and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Friends from Tampa to South Beach mourn drag queen 05/29/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 11:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bill Clinton coming to Miami Beach on Saturday for mayors' convention


    From our friends at the Miami Herald:

    Former President Bill Clinton gives the opening address to kick off a meeting of International Aid Groups at the InterAction Forum 2017 at the Washington Convention Center on June 20.
  2. Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault


    WASHINGTON — Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Barack Obama shake hands at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. [Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]
  3. GOP's challenge: Finding votes for Senate health care bill (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally unwrapped his plan for dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law. Now comes his next challenge — persuading enough Republicans to back the measure and avert a defeat that could be shattering for President Donald Trump and the GOP.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to reporters at the Capitol after Republicans released their long-awaited bill to scuttle much of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. He is one of four GOP senators to say they are opposed it but are open to negotiations, which could put the measure in immediate jeopardy. [Associated Press]
  4. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy


    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Harmeling first woman to receive lifetime honor at Sneaker Soiree in Tampa

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — For the last quarter-century, she has combined passion and meticulousness to keep the Gasparilla Distance Classic humming and evolving. Indefatigable and detailed, Susan Harmeling braces for every race-weekend contingency.

    Susan Harmeling gives a speech after accepting an award  during the annual Sneaker Soiree, at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, Thursday, June 22, 2017.