Blaze Starr, the flame-haired Bourbon Street stripper who exploded into public consciousness in 1959 when she carried on a boisterous affair with Gov. Earl K. Long, died Monday at her home in rural West Virginia, not far from where she grew up.
Starr, who had been in New Orleans for only a few days when she met the governor, wrote a 1974 memoir about her time with Long. Fifteen years later, it was made into a movie, “Blaze,” with Lolita Davidovich playing the stripper and Paul Newman playing Earl Long. Starr had a minor role in the picture.
Starr’s nephew, Earsten Spaulding, said she died Monday at her Wilsondale, West Virginia, home. He said she had experienced heart issues the past few years. She was 83.
Born in 1932 as Fannie Bell Fleming, Starr left Wayne County, West Virginia, at 14. After a brief stint working at a doughnut shop, she began performing at a club in Washington, D.C, where she first acquired her stage name. She moved to Baltimore and performed at the Two O’Clock Club; years later, she bought the club.
In her mid-20s, Starr traveled the country on the nightclub circuit. She was a curvaceous, buxom performer who reveled in risque sight gags.
In early 1959, she began performing at the Sho-Bar in New Orleans, and it was there she met Long, who was nearing the end of his second and final term as governor.
“After watching my burning couch routine, he came back to the dressing room and introduced himself,” Starr later told People magazine. “As I headed onstage for the finale, I could hear him hollering, ‘Will you go to dinner with me?’
“ ‘Can I trust you,’ I said.
“ ‘Hell, no,’ he replied.”
In spring 1989, doing publicity for the forthcoming “Blaze,” she spoke with The Advocate about her time with Long. Starr recalled that it was a thrill to be with someone in a position of power, but she said she tried to avoid taking money or gifts from the governor, though it was hard because he was a naturally generous man.
“Who wouldn’t want to ride in a limousine?” she recalled. “But I was making good money, so I didn’t need that. And I told him I didn’t want to take anything from him.”
After that initial meeting, they went to dinner several times, and the relationship grew into an affair that lasted until Long’s death in September 1960.
The eccentric Long appeared to get more and more unhinged during the early days of their affair, at one point trashing the Governor’s Mansion. In May 1959, his wife, Blanche, had him committed to Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, citing, among other things, his affair with Starr. After nine days, Long managed to gain release after replacing the head of the state Hospital Board with a friend who then persuaded the board to fire the administrator of the hospital.
The exuberant affair and the governor’s escape from the hospital dominated headlines in Louisiana and around the nation — a generation before Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky made political sex scandals into dinner table conversation.
Starr even claimed to have had sex with President John F. Kennedy — before he was elected — and said she was about to bed him in 1962, but the Cuban Missile Crisis intervened.
“They took me home, and I never saw him again,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1989.
Starr’s tales about Long were not appreciated by some who knew the governor.
“On a scale of nothing to something, I would rate Blaze a perfect zero,” Bill Dodd, who served as Long’s lieutenant governor from 1948 to 1952, wrote in a 1991 memoir.
The ex-stripper, known as “The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque,” told The Advocate that she was sure her Earl would have loved her memoir and the movie that came of it.
“He would be so proud,” Starr said. “Earl was always proud of me as a human being. He’s smiling all over Winnfield. If there’s a heaven, Earl Long is smiling.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.