With the passing of Nashom Wooden, the New York City drag and queer nightlife community saw its first major casualty of COVID-19. When his best friend, designer Geoffrey Mac, announced the news yesterday in a teary Facebook video, we all cried along with him. Nashom, who performed as Mona Foot, was a longtime treasure who flexed muscles as a drag version of Wonder Woman, acted with RuPaul, worked at Patricia Field’s boutique, hosted the very first Glam Awards (for NYC queer nightlife), appeared in the movie Flawless, and put down his heels as a bartender-slash-door guy at the Cock, Manhattan’s legendary sex-positive gay club.
“For many in this community,” I wrote on Facebook upon hearing the news, “this shit is now officially real. No more nervous jokes. No more ’artists’ whining that they had to postpone their gigs. RIP, Nashom. What a gem.”
In 2017, Nashom gave me an in-depth interview for Paper magazine about his life and career, and we got to reconnect over our shared experiences through the years. I remember him lip-synching to Aretha Franklin at the East Village drag boîte Boy Bar, where impresario Matthew Kasten singled Nashom out for plucking-and-tucking stardom. Nashom named himself after Katherine Helmond’s Mona character from Who’s the Boss? (whom he loved), and Kasten wackily added the “Foot” for good measure. Nashom truly was the boss. As Mona, he was quick-witted and zingy, only clocking people when they deserved it. Best of all, his lip sync was utterly flawless.
Beyond Boy Bar, Nashom/Mona became slicker and even more experienced, co-starring with an up-and-coming RuPaul in an Off Broadway play called My Pet Homo in the early ’90s. “It was a play about two alien women who capture a homosexual human on their planet, and they worship Sylvester,” Nashom explained to me with a giggle. On the bright side, Ru taught him how to do drag makeup, which he’d been sketchy on. “Ru taught me a few things,” he said.
As Mona, he also hosted Star Search at the dance club Crobar and Faggoty Feud, a gay take on Family Feud, at the Chelsea bar Barracuda. The Golden Girls’ Rue McClanahan did some guest hosting, about which Nashom quipped to me, “I don’t remember her being funnier than me. She definitely had a draw.” When the game show popped up at another bar, XL, I saw the room erupt into jeers when Mona joked that “From certain angles, Maria Shriver’s look is almost AIDS-y.” Ever the pro, Mona deftly managed to talk her way out of that one!
Meanwhile, Nashom was getting tired of doing drag because of the severe physical pain involved, and was drinking to ease it. He also said he felt no need to escape into a fantasy character because he was quite popular as a male his whole life. In 1999, he agreed to appear as a character named Amazing Grace in the movie Flawless, which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman as a drag queen who gives speech therapy to a cop who had a stroke (Robert De Niro), but Nashom got to be both in and out of drag. He also co-wrote the lyrics, with Paul Alexander, of what he hoped would be the title song. As the dance-pop trio the Ones, he, Alexander, and JoJo Americo recorded the track and performed it in clubs with a sort of sci-fi hero look that opened a whole new chapter for Nashom.
The song didn’t make it into the movie, but in 2002 a remix was used for a Revlon commercial and helped push “Flawless” into the top 10 on the British singles chart—the Ones even appeared on the popular Top of the Pops. “We’d given up on the song,” Nashom told me, thrilled at its second life. In 2004, George Michael sampled it and had his own hit, “Flawless (Go to the City),” which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart.
One of the last times we talked, Nashom was working on a documentary, pitching a sitcom, and getting called for TV auditions. He would occasionally message me for advice, and I was always willing to comply in hopes of giving him a boost back towards the spotlight. In addition to looming career opportunities, Nashom—who felt unapproachable in bars—was suddenly getting lots of action thanks to hookup apps. “I am tripping over dick!” he told me, triumphantly.
But one thing that irked Nashom was that a lot of people still called him Mona when he wanted to be referred to by his rightful name, not by the cartoon character he had pretty much retired. Whenever I ran into him, I’d slip and say, “Hi, Mona”—because Mona was that real to me—but he totally understood and forgave me. Beneath the tough veneer was a real softie.
On Facebook, fellow drag personality Linda Simpson wrote, “Mona! I thought you were indestructible. I will miss you terribly, my friend.” Wrote Michael Formika Jones, also known as drag star Misstress Formika: “My tears haven’t stopped since I heard the news about a kind and longtime friend Nashom, who even during my darkest time offered his help to bail me out. You will be greatly missed and you will always be a superstar to me.” Dwayne Cooper, a.k.a. Milan, posted that he’d staged a show for the Ones and that “Mona was PIVOTAL in helping me break out into the drag scene in NY.”
The virus must have taken Nashom very quickly because a mutual friend ran into him on the street not that long ago and he seemed fine. But I heard from a source that Nashom had experienced a respiratory infection around the New Year’s holiday, and that had to have been a factor in his later demise. A false rumor was spread that when Nashom recently started feeling sick, he was turned away from a New York City hospital because his symptoms weren’t bad enough. More credible sources report that Nashom had been sick and self-quarantined but that he’d actually been feeling better. (He obviously had a relapse later.)
As I said, this shit is real—and Nashom Wooden was a gem.