Trailblazing transgender model April Ashley has died at the age of 86.
Ashley — born George Jamieson — underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1960, before embarking on an international modeling career that landed her on the pages of Vogue.
The British beauty was photographed by both Robert Bailey and Terence Donovan, and reportedly romanced a string of A-list heartthrobs, including Michael Hutchence and Omar Sharif.
Meanwhile, Elvis Presley, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali were all said to have been smitten with the model.
But Ashley — who was only the second British person to undergo male-to-female gender reassignment surgery — was often subjected to public ridicule at a time where LGBTQ+ people were largely excluded from the spotlight.
In her later years, however, Ashley became widely recognized for her role in championing transgender causes. At the age of 80, she advised the actor Eddie Redmayne on how to play a trans woman for his 2015 film “The Danish Girl.”
The model passed away at home in London on Monday. The news was first reported by the Liverpool Echo, and a cause of death has not yet been disclosed.
Ashley was born George Jamieson in 1935 to a working-class couple who had five other children. As a young boy, Ashley said she felt like a stranger in her own body.
“I never grew up as I was supposed to,” she recalled in “The First Lady” — a memoir about her childhood. “I was emaciated and very shy. I felt like a total freak. There were no whiskers, my voice didn’t break and I sprouted breasts. I hated myself and there was no one I could look to.”
As George, Ashley joined the Merchant Navy, before being discharged following a suicide attempt. Ashley was placed in a mental institution after trying to commit suicide for a second time at the age of 17. There, Ashley was treated with electroconvulsive therapy and injected with male hormones.
Ashley later fled to Paris and worked in a nightclub, saving up £1,500 ($2,000 USD) to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Morocco.
After undergoing the groundbreaking procedure in 1960, George officially became named April Ashley and returned to the UK, where she embarked on a successful modeling career.
In 1961, the British tabloid Sunday People outed Ashley as a trans woman, causing a significant stir at the time. However, her undeniable beauty meant her modeling career survived in spite of the biases she encountered.
In London’s swinging ’60s, she partied with artists including Dali and Picasso and was a fixture on the social scene.
Ashley married twice. Her first union was with British aristocrat Arthur Corbett, who famously had the marriage annulled on the grounds that Ashley was “a man.” She tied the knot for a second time to Jeffrey West in the 1980s.
However, it was her reported romances with high-profile heartthrobs that garnered the most attention.
Egyptian actor Omar Sharif and British star Peter O’Toole were both said to have bedded the beauty. Ashley also claimed to have had a brief romance with INXS frontman Michael Hutchence in the early 1980s.
The model also said Elvis Presley was captivated by her when they met in Paris prior to her gender reassignment surgery.
At the time, Ashley was wearing women’s clothing and the American rock icon had no idea she still had a male appendage. The pair never slept together, but Elvis always bought her a bottle of champagne whenever they met up in the years afterward.
In 2012, Ashley was awarded an OBE (the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her work raising awareness about transgender causes.
“I never asked to be born like this,” she stated after receiving the honor. “I would like to have been born normal like everyone else. I wanted to live in the real world and do what everyone else does, but I think I have lived my life with enormous dignity.”
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