Burlesque sensation Kitten De Ville has been performing all over America and Europe since ’94 and featured in music videos for Jennifer Lopez, The Cramps, and Rob Zombie. Her iconic images photographed by the legendary Bunny Yeager and David Lachapelle, to name a few, have graced the covers of magazines, books, and calendars worldwide.
Kitten De Ville opens her heart as she honors her late husband Shawn with an up-close and intimate interview about the love they shared, raising a family, his unexpected yet poetic passing, having the strength to get through the loss, cremation of a loved one and offering her own perspective on death, so often a taboo topic. One of the greatest mysteries of life is death, and because of death, we can realize just how precious every single moment of life is.
The beginning of a fairy tale
Shawn and I met in 1983. He died July 27th. We have been together 36 years as of Sept 18 of this year. I met him when we were at the Lhasa Club in LA, a gothic night called the Scream Parlor. I was 17, he was 22. Shawn was wearing his suit jackets like he always wore. I had these old 1950’s pumps that were falling apart. I was going to go dance and asked Shawn if he would watch my shoes, that’s how we met. A few nights later at Hollywood punk club Cathay de Grande, we made a date to meet again at the same club the following week. From then on we were pretty much dating and together, that was mid-September 1983. We had our first daughter Chantel in 85, Chelsea in 88, and Ivy in 98. We did things our way trying to live authentically but also very Ozzie and Harriet too cause I’m go-go dancing and doing burlesque, and he’s in a band, all of that while raising a family.
Shawn’s band is legacy! I always had this idea of doing a Cramps song, ‘Bad Girl’ as a duet with Shawn, he was always a little reluctant to mix the two worlds of Kitten De Ville with Shawn De Ville so we wouldn’t overshadow each other. When his band Kill Kill City broke up he said ‘we should start our own band, and he had the perfect name for it, Apollo Sex! Right before he passed his guitar player Nick Stang and I had written a song together. Shawn sat on the floor in the basement kind of squatting with his hands on his knees staring up at me like the proudest person in the world. I remember the look in his eyes. I was having so much fun.
Shawn was DJ’ing for a couple years before he and I started DJing together. Both of those two things carry on for me, so he gave me this gift of music. Originally we weren’t going to do the band after Shawn died, but we had this show booked at Pixels. I had booked my friend’s band from Paris, and they suggested I perform the songs as a tribute. We only had two rehearsals. We did three songs, two were originals and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Iggy Pop. This is my soul, an outlet I love. I DJ every Monday night at Pixels in Riverside.
We discovered Shawn needed his whole left valve replaced and had to have open-heart surgery. He took 3 months off of work and got the open-heart surgery on June 6th. By June 7th and 8th, he was up like he was 20 years again. It was the first time since we met that we had this time together. Even though we had 36 years, it was the most beautiful bubble of time for me from June to July 27th and I’m super grateful for that. It was like we were falling in love all over again like we were kids.
Kitten tours with Teenage Werewolves
I was booked with Teenage Werewolves. I was dancing and learning to play drums. I left on the 25th to go to LA. We were going up to San Francisco on the 26th, the night he died was the night we drove up to San Francisco. I remember him giving me a really big hug and kiss as he was walking me to the gate when I was leaving. We both stopped and hugged each other extra tight and kissed each other a little more than we normally did and said our regular goodbyes, and we were both a little extra clingy. That was the last time I saw Shawn alive. It’s something we both must have felt. Shawn passed away on Saturday morning at 3 am.
The night Shawn died
I sent Shawn footage of me drumming that my friend took after the show in San Francisco. He was at Pixels and called me back and he said he was really proud of me, that the footage was great. “There’s so many people I haven’t seen in so long here, it’s really nice.” The last thing I got from him was a text message saying, “I’m taking an uber home” and I was like “oh good text me before you go to bed.” I remember I was in the back seat of the car and our hotel was in San Jose. We were driving from San Francisco and Peter Murphy was on the radio. There was this huge crescent moon and I wondered why Shawn hadn’t texted me. In the morning I texted him. I was kind of getting worried thinking he may have fell and hurt his stitches. I called him after lunch and still no response. I text my daughter Chelsea and I sent her a screenshot of the empty texts. We always wrote each other back, that was something that would annoy most people around me Shawn would call or text me 24/7, so it was really weird there were no messages for so long. Chelsea came here around 2:30 in the afternoon, she went upstairs and could see him in the bathtub. He wasn’t underwater or anything, his hands were nicely folded on his chest and his head was dipped a little to the side, it looked like he had gone to sleep, and of course, he was dead. She called her sister Chantel who called me and told me. My whole world changed in the moment of a phone call. It was so surreal, time stopped, everything went weirdly silent. I remember the gesture of Jack coming back to the hotel and setting the tissues in front of me and holding my hand. He didn’t say anything. We were all in shock, there’s no words and just sitting there for a moment and thinking I don’t know what to do. Part of me just wants to do this show tonight and pretend like none of this is happening, but I have to be home, I gotta go home.
Kitten goes home
Jack booked me a flight. Going to the airport I didn’t think I could give someone a ticket and understand where I was going because I felt so fragile, so my friends walked me to security. There wasn’t very much time before my plane was going to leave. As soon as they say we’re going to take off I remember closing my eyes, it was silent tears coming down. That day, in such a situation where my world was at a standstill I remember how sweet and beautiful people were. My best friend Annie picked me up from the airport. By the time we got home, it had been hours since Shawn had passed. Because Shawn was in the bath the Coroner couldn’t leave him for me to see. I asked my daughter Chelsea to take photographs of him before anyone got there. I had a house full of people when I arrived. My sister was here, a lot of his friends were here, it was really nice to walk into. I didn’t know what to say, nobody is knowing what to do or what to say but we are all here experiencing this moment and this day together.
Shawn’s Pixels Memorial
That Monday I was going to dedicate that set to Shawn, and the bar contacted me and asked if we could make this a memorial for Shawn. Tons of people came out and we packed the place. I got to play all Shawn’s favorite music from 9-2 in the morning. It was such a good celebration of his life, such an outpouring of friends. From that point on I continue playing records every Monday. I feel like music and DJ’ing are his gifts he’s given me that make me feel just as close to him.
He always encouraged people to do things they were afraid of, he always shined light into other people, that was his biggest strength. I also think it’s a thing he never understood in his life. I don’t think he knew how much he affected people’s lives and how touched people were by him, how much love and respect they had for him. We just a memorial of his life celebration at our house, many people asked about doing an open mic to get up and talk about Shawn. So many men got up and just started crying. The outpouring of love and what people were saying on that day helps me with his death.
Shawn’s poetic passing
I believe everybody is going to die on the day they are supposed to die. I feel we are born on the day we are going to be born, and we die the day we’re going to die, everything else is just what you do in between.
I felt we were going to grow old and be in the garden together and have a whole life in front of us. His favorite thing to do was take a bath and lounge around all night, listening to his favorite playlist. The whole way he died was beautiful, it’s so poetic and super rockstar, knowing he had an impact on people in such a positive way holds me in that space of love and a good life lived. There’s beauty in that I can see and be happy about. It wasn’t tragic, it was beautiful, and the whole experience of death from that point on has been a positive one.
Ashes to Ashes
I have a friend who got me in contact with a mortician who handled all my arrangements. Shawn and I would often talk about death so we knew we were going to cremate him. Since the time we met, we had a playlist of songs, so I played those songs. It was “On Some Faraway Beach” by Brian Eno, “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” by Queen, and of course “Starman” by Bowie.
I learned when you do cremation you also can do a witnessing and watch the cremation. My friend Annie came with my daughters and I, it was beautiful to be able to see his body. We didn’t get him embalmed or anything like that, we wanted it to be natural. It wasn’t scary seeing him, it kind of reminded me of an Egyptian mummy, because his body was a little frozen. I could tell something was different, he was a little like wax I guess, but not unlike himself. I kissed him goodbye and I was like ‘Oh, you’re cold.’ It was beautiful to have that last moment with him and to watch everything ignite, there’s a glorious ending to a beautiful life. After it was done, we went out onto the grass underneath the smokestacks and watched the smoke come out for a while. You could see little pieces of ashes. I was able to go and pick up his ashes later that afternoon. I put the ashes to my chest and they were still warm.
Close By Me Jewelry
At the mortuary, they had jewelry set out with beautiful rings that had ashes hand designed and set into them from Close By Me Jewelry in Huntington Beach. The owner is an amazing lady who used to be a science teacher. Her children would bring mementos of seashells and sand while she was working with resins. It was another positive experience in bringing something so artistic and loving towards somebody that you can wear or keep with you. There’s a way to honor a life, and it can be a positive experience. It’s all your perception, we lose people and yes it hurts a lot. For me, it feels like the pain is a beautiful thing. I want to feel all of the emotions and allow it to be. I know it’s my love trying to express itself. It’s not something bad, or something I need to get rid of, or something I have to get out of or get over. I don’t need to get over my husband or this beautiful life. This is just another form of love, that expresses itself through tears and feelings. I remember waking up the very first day and thinking how quiet it was like there was no sound, the invisible sound was not there anymore that used to vibrate off Shawn to me. I kept telling myself it will find you out there in the Universe, I will feel that vibration again, and it won’t be so silent. I’ve lost him in the physical form but love can never be taken away from you, everything we’ve shared is still here and tangible within our children and in the life we set up for each other. It’s not empty. I didn’t lose what we had I just lost his physical form. I’ve got a whole other life in front of me now which I’ve never really thought of before and there’s some weird excitement in that as well.
What would people think?
Teenage Werewolves had a show scheduled for LA, but I started thinking “what would people think if I’m out there doing something that I like, and I’m smiling when Shawn just died, is that disrespectful?” I remember walking home from an energy healing at the yoga studio. It was almost as if Shawn entered my brain, it was his voice, his tone and he was like “fuck that, fuck them, you do what makes you happy.” I was like “OK, OK Shawn, I hear you”, and got out my phone and texted Jack “if you’re still needing a drummer and go-go dancer I’m down.” I closed the phone and walked home cause if I thought about this any longer I might just backpedal. I did the show and I had so much fun. Being on stage is my happy place and it was something Shawn was really proud of. He would never want me sitting at home sad. Why was I even thinking that? I’m only doing things that make me happy, focusing on Kitten De Ville, stage, band, DJing, and surrounding myself with friends. I have Shawn no longer, but I’m full of gratitude and I can’t express it enough. It opened up my heart, that’s also an interesting aspect to all of this, and the way I’m experiencing this death.
Life after death
I don’t think anybody knows what to do or what to say when someone dies. I feel like there’s really nothing to say, but the best thing you can do for somebody is just to be there and hold space for them. I feel like littlest things mean so much in my life. I had a tour booked to go to Europe for two months and of course canceled that, it was happening Sept – Nov. I couldn’t be away from home, I just needed to be here in my safe space. I’m going to Detroit for a couple of days but I feel like I need to be in my base taking care of stuff here. I’m soaking it all up doing little things that don’t stress me out too much. I’ve lost Shawn but I don’t want to lose myself, that is my biggest goal, to not allow myself to get lost in the process.
Death is just like love, everybody’s relationship is different, so everybody’s death and how they handle it is going to be different. I’m really thankful, staying in the world of who I am, there’s lessons in love and growth and positivity.
Kitten De Ville’s view on death
There are so many taboos on death and people don’t want to talk about it in fear of making other people feel uncomfortable. The best thing you can do is let the person know you’re there, sometimes that’s all you need is just somebody to be there and not do anything for you. In these past two years, there’s been a lot of death in my life. We lost Shawn’s brother to a heart attack in late September which was a surprise, his mom in October, my mom in February, and then I lost Shawn. There’s been a lot of major player deaths in my life. We thought it was the stress cause his mom was doing hospice care, she had a stroke and was in hospice and she died at our house. Then my mom ended up having lung cancer and died in a hospice. With Shawn, it felt like he’d been taken out in his prime. I thank God for the way I can appreciate and find the poetic beauty in his death. There’s always some kind of relief in death or a goodbye, I’m really thankful for the way he left. For a beautiful person he had a beautiful death, I think he deserved that death, he lived a beautiful life, he was a fantastic father, he was a great friend to everybody, people who barely met him felt a kinship with him, they really connected and that was his gift to people he was always positive and had something good to say to raise somebody up.
RIP Shawn Patrick Geary aka Shawn De Ville
(December 18, 1960- July 27, 2019)