Katrina Clarke | October 26, 2016 | Toronto Star
Andrew Henderson, the terminally ill man who tattooed his body with strangers’ secrets, has died.
This past weekend, Henderson hosted two living funeral/performance art events in Winnipeg called Taking it to the Grave, during which he invited more than 100 family, friends and strangers to tell him their secrets. A tattoo artist then inked the secrets, represented by a symbol, onto his body.
A former Toronto resident and a stage manager and performer, Henderson was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma two years ago. He passed away Wednesday morning in hospital, his friend and the show’s production manager, Sandy Klowak, told the Star.
He was 28.
“He was just a joy to be around,” said Klowak, choking back tears during a phone call. “It really changed my life working on this show and having him in my life. And I think a lot of people feel the same way.”
Klowak said nearly 120 people attended the two shows, one on Friday evening and the other on Sunday afternoon. She believed Henderson received nearly 22 tattoos, each one representing a person’s secret. Pop hits from the likes of Katy Perry and Kesha played in the background during the performances.
“It really was partially like a party, like he wanted,” she said. “There were bursts of dance parties in glitter, this pile of glitter. And, of course, there were people crying.”
Organizers expected the shows to last two hours but the Sunday event went for three. So many people wanted to tell Henderson their secrets and he said he was OK, Klowak said. Throughout both nights Henderson was calm and poised, reclining in his place of honour — an artsy champagne bottle crafted from tulle and chicken wire — occasionally resting with a cat-looking eye mask over his eyes, she said.
Klowak said Henderson showed people that although death is sad and scary, there’s also beauty in it.
“Death has been the greatest gift of my life because it allowed me to fully embrace my true and honest self,” Henderson told the Star last week. He said his terminal diagnosis allowed him to embrace his genderqueer identity, meaning he feels both male and female, and encouraged him to show off his feminine side — getting his nails done and wearing outfits that made him feel beautiful.
“Everything comes into perspective pretty quickly (when you’re dying). All you can be is your best self.”
Klowak last saw Henderson after the Sunday show, when they had a conversation about how grateful he was to the team who helped with the event. She didn’t know details about his failing health in the days since, but knew he was in hospital on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, she received a text from his mother, who attended both shows, telling her he’d died.
“I keep finding glitter everywhere . . . I find it on my face, I find it in my shoes,” Klowak said. “We’ll be finding glitter and thinking of Andrew for a long time.”