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Transgender Performer In 'Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil' Dies At 59

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And we'd like to take a moment to remember someone who rose to fame in the best-selling book "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil" and the movie that followed.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL")

JOHN CUSACK: (As John Kelso) Chablis is a pretty name.

THE LADY CHABLIS: (As Chablis Deveau) The Lady Chablis - I got it off a wine bottle.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Lady Chablis died yesterday. And for the record, that was her name. She legally changed it from her birth name, Benjamin Edward Knox.

MONTAGNE: The flamboyant transgender cabaret performer made such an impression on author John Berendt that he wrote her into his nonfiction book about a murder trial in Savannah, Ga.

INSKEEP: When we reached John Berendt, he recalled for us the first time he met her.

JOHN BERENDT: She saw me as I was parking. She was standing on the curb with her hands on her hips and a sassy half smile on her face, just watching me trying to park. And before I got out, she approached me, and she walked right around the car trailing an index finger as if she was feeling the bumps, all the dents and all the rust and went all the way around the car and came up to me, and she said, how come a white boy like you's driving a jive ass heap like this?

MONTAGNE: When the book was turned into a movie, The Lady Chablis told director Clint Eastwood that the only person who could play The Lady Chablis on screen was The Lady Chablis, and he agreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL")

THE LADY CHABLIS: (As Chablis Deveau) What does Mr. Man do for a living? He's a doctor. Mr., are you going to give me physical?

(LAUGHTER)

THE LADY CHABLIS: (As Chablis Deveau) You know I have nothing to hide.

INSKEEP: Such a memorable character that John Berendt says to this day people still ask him about Chablis.

BERENDT: People always ask me who my favorite character is, and I've never said before because, of course, it was Chablis. And if I had said so, she never would have let me forget about it, and she'd have held it over my head. But now it can be told that she is my favorite character. And it's not as if she died not knowing that. She knew, and she also knew she was everybody's favorite.

MONTAGNE: When The Lady Chablis died in Savannah yesterday, she was 59. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.