Former Philadelphian Arthur Francis Galster died Aug. 25. He was 55.
Galster, known as Arturo to his friends, was the victim of a violent attack 36 hours before his death. The San Francisco chief medical examiner has not yet released the results of an autopsy, but Galster’s family said they were told Galster likely suffered congestive heart failure and his death was not related to the attack.
Galster was born May 7, 1959, and grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. The youngest of nine siblings, he graduated from Father Judge High School, where his passion for theater was sparked; he performed in such productions as “Godspell” before graduating in 1977. He attended Tyler School of Art at Temple University until 1978, when he transferred to San Francisco Art Institute.
Over the next more-than 35 years, Galster went on to develop an expansive stage career, frequently gracing the Castro Theatre stage and an array of queer clubs throughout the area. He became known for his impersonation of Patsy Cline, touring as the songstress for the better part of the 1980s.
He also performed in cult drag films like “Vegas in Space” and “Virtue II.”
Galster spent four years in the late ’80s living in Japan, where he performed with a kyogen-comedy troupe, had television spots and came in second on a televised singing competition.
He frequently visited Japan after returning to San Francisco in 1990.
“Arturo embodied what have become the iconic and defining qualities of his adopted city: passion, fearlessness and an unwavering zest for life,” said sister Cate Fetterman, on behalf of his family. “San Francisco was a central part of his identity, and it has now become even clearer to us as his siblings and nieces and nephews how much a part of San Francisco’s identity Arturo truly was.”
But, noted brother Joseph, Galster always had a spot in his heart for Philadelphia.
“He spent the first 20 years of his life here in Philadelphia and loved Philadelphia,” he said. “He of course loved San Francisco too. When he moved there 35 years ago, it gave him the chance to express himself more than was possible in Philadelphia at that time. But he enjoyed all of his visits back here since then.”
Offstage, Galster worked administrative jobs and, for several years, studied hula dance. He was fluent in German and Japanese and also spoke French and Spanish.
Fetterman said Galster’s biological family has taken comfort in the support extended from his large circle of supporters on the West Coast and beyond.
“The outpouring of love and emotion from Arturo’s chosen family, friends, colleagues and neighbors in San Francisco has overwhelmed us,” she said. “The photos and memories so many have posted on social media will serve as testament to his life. As members of his family, we want to express our deepest thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts and prayers with us in this time.”
Galster is survived by sisters Fetterman, Helen Elliott and Miriam Galster; brothers Joseph, Rod, Gerry, Rick and Greg Galster; 17 nieces and nephews; 11 great-nieces and nephews; and a wide circle of chosen family and friends.
A memorial celebration is planned for Sept. 22 at the Castro Theatre. For more information, or to contribute to fundraising for the San Francisco event, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-celebration-of-arturo-galster.