Tanqueray's colorful anecdotes from a life as a burlesque dancer in the 1960s and '70s have captivated the internet.
It only took three of Tanqueray's life stories for the internet to become utterly enthralled by the straight-shooting New Yorker. Netizens hung on to every word of her wild anecdotes from a life as a burlesque dancer in the 1960s and '70s and calls for movies or books based on her life inevitably followed. However, for months after November 2019, when Humans of New York first introduced its followers to the fabulously dressed senior, there were no new updates about the great Tanqueray. The internet yearned for more of her tales featuring underground glamour, mob guys, strippers, porn stars, and even a president who used to book her best friend Vicki every time he came to New York. YES, A PRESIDENT.
Tanqueray — whose real name is Stephanie Johnson — recounted the time her mother kicked her out of the house at 17 for getting pregnant and had her arrested when she tried to get her clothes. Despite her mother's supposedly repeated attempts to keep her in jail, the warden decided to take a chance on the young woman and had her tested. Realizing that she had great potential, he offered her a scholarship to further her studies anywhere in New York. "I chose the Fashion Institute of Technology, which I hated. But by that time I was already getting work making costumes for the strippers and porn stars in Times Square. All my friends were gay people because they never judged me," she told Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York.
"All I did was gay bars: drag queen contests, Crisco Disco, I loved the whole scene. And I couldn’t get enough of the costumes. My friend Paris used to sit at the bar and sell stolen clothes from Bergdorf and Lord and Taylors, back before they had sensor tags. So I had the best wardrobe: mink coats, 5-inch heels, stockings with seams up the back. I looked like a drag queen, honey," Johnson added. The 76-year-old's stories were shared far and wide on the internet, as netizens — including actress Jennifer Garner — wondered why she didn't have a Netflix deal yet.
Almost a year later, Stanton brought finally brought news of Johnson last week. He revealed that her health had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and that he would post 32 more anecdotes from her life on Instagram in an effort to raise money for her medical expenses and ongoing care. "Our plan is to raise funds for Stephanie’s care alongside the telling of her story. The ultimate goal is for Stephanie to live the rest of her life on her own terms. Maybe that means an assisted living facility. Maybe that means remaining in her apartment with the assistance of a home health aide. I’m not sure. But I want to provide her with enough resources so that it’s her decision, and not a decision forced upon her," he explained in a GoFundMe campaign set up for her.
"But I’m not viewing this as charity. Stephanie brings a priceless resource to the table—her story. We're just going to tell that story using a new model. Instead of selling advertising, or selling it to a publisher, we’re asking for voluntary contributions from anyone who’s gotten value from Stephanie’s narrative," Stanton added. "If the story of her life has made you laugh, or cry, or think—please consider compensating the person who lived it. Because right now her story is the one thing she has to offer." As promised, bits and pieces of Johnson's incredible life were slowly unraveled in the Humans of New York Instagram page where its 10.9 million followers drank up every word.
Within days, the campaign had raised over $2.6 million for Johnson's aid. However, the newfound fame and fortune have not fazed the senior in the least. According to The New York Times, she says she plans to live her life the way she has been up until now, using the money raised only to cover her living expenses and health care needs. Following her death, the remaining funds will be donated to The Association To Benefit Children —a highly respected New York charity dedicated to helping the city’s most vulnerable children. "I look at people and they don’t have food, they are homeless or whatever is going on, and if I am fortunate to do this, why wouldn’t I donate it?" she asked. "I don’t even want a car."