Queer Icon John Waters, Self-Proclaimed ‘Filth Elder,’ Receives Much-Deserved Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

John Waters, pioneering DIY filmmaker, author, fashion icon and self-proclaimed “filth elder," was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Monday. 

“The Hollywood Walk of Fame, you’re the best, and I hope the most desperate showbiz rejects walk over me here and feel some sort of respect and strength,” he said in his acceptance speech. “The drains on this magic boulevard will never wash away the gutter of my gratitude, the flotsam of my film career, or the waste of Waters’ appreciation. Thank you, Hollywood. This time, I’ve finally gone beyond the valley of the dolls.”

Waters is best known for his transgressive cult films, particularly those released in the 1970s and ’80s, such as “Pink Flamingos” and “Polyester.” Both featured his frequent collaborator, the late actor and drag queen Divine. Divine also starred in “Hairspray,” Waters’ 1988 film that was later adapted into a successful Broadway play and a 2007 film with John Travolta.

In the 1990 subversive cult favorite “Cry-Baby,” Waters directed then-rising star Johnny Depp, and his campy, irreverent style was on full display in arguably his most mainstream film, “Serial Mom” with Kathleen Turner, released in 1994.

Known for pushing boundaries across genres, Waters’ films are famously not for everyone — many a viewer will have stopped at the Divine poo-eating scene in “Polyester,” never to seek out the avant-garde filmmaker’s work again, but others note a certain kind of genius in the way he reflects the absurdity of human nature on film.

A new exhibition at The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in L.A. focuses on Waters' unique (and often filthy) contributions to cinema. “John Waters: Pope of Trash” runs through Aug. 4, 2024. William S. Burroughs bestowed Waters with the "Pope of Trash" title in 1986. 

While receiving his honor on Monday, Waters stood with many of the stars of his films., including original “Hairspray” star Ricki Lake, Mink Stole and photographer Greg Gorman. Lake read a letter she had sent to Waters shortly after filming “Hairspray.”

“Thank you for giving me the greatest experience of my life,” she read in part. “I realize you took a big chance with me and for my sake, and I’m sure as hell glad you did. I love you like a brother, father, director, friend, lover. Well, maybe not lover.”

Ana Martinez, producer of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, praised Waters for being “a huge part of pop culture for many years.”

“As a director, he has created some of our historic and favorite film moments, and we’re thrilled to welcome him to our landmark location for this well-deserved and permanent tribute,” she said.

Waters spoke to Pride Source’s Chris Azzopardi in 2017 about the longevity of his career.

"I'm really proud that all my movies still seem to play fine with audiences, even young audiences that weren't even born when I made these movies!" he said. "That's the ultimate test to me. … I'm always encouraged when I have a young audience. That's the only thing you can't buy, the one thing you can't fake."