Local TV icon and ardent LGBT supporter Sally Starr died Jan. 27, two days after her 90th birthday.
Starr hosted “Popeye Theater” from 1950 through the ’70s on WFIL, the predecessor to WPVI, solidifying her cowgirl persona and nickname “our gal Sal.”
The recording artist also hosted her own country-music show based out of New Jersey until two years ago.
She was a longtime supporter of the LGBT community. She hosted PGN’s Lambda Awards, appeared at Henri David’s Halloween ball and at LGBT rodeo events.
She was a speaker at the Philadelphia Pride celebration most years from the early 1990s until her most recent appearance in 2010.
Philly Pride Presents executive director Franny Price said she once asked Starr why she was so invested in the LGBT community.
“She told me that the children who watched her on TV were everybody — white, black, Asian, Spanish, gay, straight — and she loved all her fans,” Price said.
That feeling was reciprocal, she added.
Each year, the line to meet Starr was lengthy.
“No matter how many times she came and spoke at Pride, the lines were never less than 300-people deep of people wanting her autograph,” Price said. “One year she brought copies of a book she wrote and she sold out. Police who were on duty would come up to me and say, ‘Can you get me an autograph for my mom?’ And this was every year. People just loved her. For this generation, this is who we grew up with, and it’s exciting to have a TV celebrity like this who supports you.”
In 1998, Starr brought a defamation suit against a New Jersey radio station after an on-air host referred to her as a “lesbian cowgirl.”
Starr told the Inquirer that year that she wasn’t offended by the label but rather by the host’s intentions.
“If I was a lesbian, I’d say so because that’s no big deal,” she said. “But to me it was an out-and-out lie, a way to boost his ratings.”
And, Price said, Starr took a lot of flack because of the host’s comment — including the loss of bookings that resulted in a serious financial hardship.
“She could have stopped all association with us so she had a stronger case to prove she wasn’t a lesbian, but she didn’t. She was very loyal to this community,” Price said. “I admire and respect Sally so much because I know what a genuine person she was. She loved her fans and didn’t care who we were and, in a sense, that cost her her livelihood. She showed me how important it is to support our allies for supporting us.”
A viewing will be held from 5-8 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Constantino Funeral Home, 231 W. White Horse Pike in Berlin, N.J., with a funeral service immediately following. Burial will be private.