How did Halston die? Tragic death of iconic designer who wanted to 'fade away gracefully'
Although selling the rights of his label was a great business move, it adversely impacted Halston who soon fell into a downward spiral
First lady Jacqueline Onasis Kennedy was undoubtedly a fashion icon and her signature style was pillbox hat. But have you ever wondered who designed the fashion piece that she wore to her husband John F Kennedy's presidential inauguration? Well, it's none other than Roy "Halston" Frowick. Halston began his career as a milliner after graduating from School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1950s.
When hats fell out of style, Halston turned his creative genius to designing extremely fashionable yet comfortable pieces of clothing for women. He was one of the most sought-after designers in the '70s. At the peak of his fame, he designed several A-list celebrities like Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Margaux Hemingway and Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol called his runway shows “the art form of the ’70s.” But his success and fame came crashing down when the designer made a decision to sell the rights to his name in 1973 for $16 million. After selling the rights to his name, Halston resorted to a hard-partying and jet-setting lifestyle, which eventually ended with his tragic death in 1990 at the age of 57. Halston was diagnosed with AIDS and died of AIDS-related cancer after battling it for a year and a half. Read on to know more about the tragic downfall of the once iconic designer, and his eventual death.
Halston's declining popularity
During the '60s and '70s, Halston was the "It designer" who was known for designing some exquisite pieces for the most fashionable women in the world and his high-end clientele boasted of Babe Paley, Anjelica Huston, Gene Tierney, Lauren Bacall, Margaux Hemingway and Elizabeth Taylor. In an interview with NY Post, his niece, Lesley Frowick, shared, "His simple elegant designs are timeless. He reached back to antiquity for inspiration. He knew how to flatter the female body.”
Everybody wanted to own Halston's pieces, so the designer made it accessible to everybody by making the bold decision of mass-producing his pieces by tying up with JC Penney and released a range of affordable clothing line called Halston III. Although Halston III was an instant hit amongst the masses, high-end retailers like Bergdorf Goodman weren't pleased with the designer's move. They dropped Halston's brand from their chain of stores by claiming that the JC Penney collection was diminishing the label's exclusivity.
Pat Cleveland, a close associate of Halston told PEOPLE, "He knows who he is and where he came from. I guess he just wanted to dress his mom. He just wanted to give ladies a chance to feel glamorous, chic and modern — then that was the fall.” Although selling the rights of his label was a great business move it adversely impacted Halston who soon fell into a downward spiral. He reportedly developed a cocaine addiction and didn't bother being discreet about it. Ridge told the outlet, "He would come in at 1:00 p.m. He would disappear into his bathroom every half hour or so. He always looked like he had just eaten a powdered doughnut.” He also revealed how the relationship between Halston and JC Penney began deteriorating at an alarming pace as they both belonged to "two different worlds" and "had no idea how the other world worked".
Soon Halston and the executives of JC Penney had a huge showdown that ended with the designer being kicked out and the brand continuing to use his name without his creative output. Halston stopped designing after the incident and reportedly never designed professionally again.
How did Halston die?
After being kicked out of designing for JC Penney, Halston began partying heavily and resorted to heavy drug usage that had some serious repercussions on the designer's life. Steven Gaines, the author of 'Simply Halston', described some of the extravagant parties that the designer threw at his party pad in his book. He compared spending time with Halston to being licked by a cat "At first it feels good, but then it begins to scratch." "It was one of the most reckless, anything-goes moments in history,” wrote Gaines, whose book chronicles Halston’s exploits — from sex with male prostitutes (whom he’d serve steak as foreplay) to watching a Moroccan sex show that featured bestiality. “Being trash was venerated. The trashier you could be, the more you could get laid, the more drugs you could take.”
In 1988, Halston tested positive for AIDS. Halston moved to San Francisco to be closer with his family as his health began deteriorating. He kept his AIDS diagnosis a secret and reportedly told only to the ones closest to him. He died at Pacific Medical Center of AIDS-related lung cancer. His niece, Leslie, was by his side when he died in 1990, at the age of 57. She said, "He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him; he wanted them to remember him as this vital, healthy person. He was trying to just fade away gracefully.”
If you would like to learn more about Halston and his fascinating life, then check out Netflix's upcoming miniseries titled Halston It's based on Gaines' book 'Simply Halston', and features Ewan McGregor reprising the role of the legendary designer.
'Halston' premieres on May 14 on Netflix, following which it will be available for streaming on Netflix.