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Friends remember legend of Richmond’s underground, Donnie “Dirt Woman” Corker

RICHMOND, Va. -- Donnie "Dirtwoman" Corker, who died Tuesday at age 65 after a long battle with congestive heart failure, was Richmond's 300- to 450-pound icebreaker.

For two full generations he crashed through long-frozen barriers with a simple and reckless abandon.

"Donnie pretty much has just been himself and been outrageous, not afraid put on a dress and do something crazy," said TV critic and producer Jerry Williams, who is working on an in-depth documentary about this legend of Richmond's underground.

Donnie Corker - "Dirt Woman"

"He was a lightning rod for bizarreness," said RVA musician Peter Headley, who began the annual Christmastime "Hamaganza" fund-raiser starring Dirtwoman as Mrs. Claus 20 years ago.

Donnie was an Oregon Hill boy who couldn't read or write, the son of a railroad man who rode city buses instead of going to school, learning this town like none other.

"He lasted," said longtime movie and event promoter Ray Bentley. "And he knew people from all strata of life. He knew business owners, he knew students, he knew politicians, policemen. He just knew everybody. And it got to the point where people would come in from out of town and say, "What's that?" Oh, that's Dirtwoman, that's our famous wild person. And everybody really got to the point to where they liked Donnie."

Longtime Richmond reporter and Hamsganza organizer Chris Dovi said Dirtwoman was his own Richmond monument of sorts.

Donnie Corker - "Dirt Woman" and his friend Mark Holmber, CBS 6 Reporter

"He represented for a lot of people the way to come out, to be who they really are, to express their true selves," Dovi said. "A lot of people just liked to know him, to be able to say, yeah, I know Donnie, you know, I bought a flower from Donnie . . . Donnie cussed at me one time on the street. It's kind of a personal monument that a lot of people have to have known Donnie."

As his sister, Debbie Corker, said, "He's a big icon-angel in the sky now."

A reception for friends and family will be held at Bliley Funeral Home's Augusta Avenue chapel Saturday from 5 p.m. until 8.

A memorial service-slash-party and fundraiser a la Hamaganza will be held, tentatively, during the second week of December.

Related: Dirt Woman, fighting heart failure, plans to die onstage in 25 years