The Class Roster and pictures are as represented in the Woodrow Wilson High School, Portsmouth, Virginia yearbook or annual of the year indicated on the page. The Roster may not be complete and pictures and names may have been removed by request of the person involved. Also, it does not offically indicate the year of graduation and/or that the party in question graduated. If you are not represented in your class, you will be added to the last page of the year and you may submit a photo to be added. John “Eddie” Lee ’68.
V. C. Andrews – author
Andrews's novels combine Gothic horror and family saga, revolving around family secrets and forbidden love (frequently involving themes of horrific events, and sometimes including a rags-to-riches story). Her best-known novel is the bestseller Flowers in the Attic (1979), a tale of four children smuggled into the attic of their wealthy estranged pious grandmother, and held prisoner there by their mother.
Her novels were successful enough that following Andrews's death, her estate hired a ghost writer, Andrew Neiderman, to continue to write novels to be published under her name. In assessing a deficiency in her estate tax returns, the Internal Revenue Service argued (successfully) that Virginia Andrews's name was a valuable commercial asset, the value of which should be included in her gross estate.
Her novels have been translated into Czech, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Greek, Finnish, Hungarian, Swedish, Polish, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Chinese, Russian and Hebrew.
Andrews was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, the youngest child and only daughter of Lillian Lilnora (Parker), a telephone operator, and William Henry Andrews, a tool-and-die maker. She had two older brothers, William Jr. and Eugene. Andrews grew up attending Southern Baptist and Methodist churches. As a teenager, Andrews suffered a fall from a school stairwell, resulting in severe back injuries. The subsequent surgery to correct these injuries resulted in Andrews' suffering from crippling arthritis that required her to use crutches and a wheelchair for much of her life. However, having always shown promise as an artist, she was able to complete a four-year correspondence course from her home and soon became a successful commercial artist, illustrator, and portrait painter, using her art commissions to support the family after her father's death in 1957.
Later in life, Andrews turned to writing. Her first novel, titled Gods of Green Mountain, was a science fiction effort that remained unpublished during her lifetime but was released as an e-book in 2004. In 1975, Andrews completed a manuscript for a novel she called Flowers in the Attic. "I wrote it in two weeks," Andrews said. The novel was returned with the suggestion that she "spice up" and expand the story. In later interviews, Andrews claims to have made the necessary revisions in a single night. The novel, published in 1979, was an instant popular success, reaching the top of the bestseller lists in only two weeks. Every year thereafter until her death, Andrews published a new novel, each publication earning Andrews larger advances and a growing popular readership.
"I think I tell a whopping good story. And I don't drift away from it a great deal into descriptive material," she stated in Faces of Fear in 1985. "When I read, if a book doesn't hold my interest in what's going to happen next, I put it down and don't finish it. So I'm not going to let anybody put one of my books down and not finish it. My stuff is a very fast read." In an interview for Twilight Magazine in 1983, Andrews was questioned about the critics' response to her work. She answered, "I don't care what the critics say. I used to, until I found out that most critics are would-be writers who are just jealous because I'm getting published and they aren't. I also don't think that anybody cares about what they say. Nor should they care."
Andrews died of breast cancer on December 19, 1986, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After her death, her family hired a ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman, to finish the manuscripts she had started. He would complete the next two novels, Garden of Shadows and Fallen Hearts, and they were published soon after. These two novels are considered the last to bear the "V. C. Andrews" name and to be almost completely written by Andrews herself.
Marty Brennaman – sportscaster for the Cincinnati Reds
A native of Portsmouth, Virginia, Brennaman attended Randolph-Macon College and the University of North Carolina, graduating from the latter institution with a communications degree in 1965. He began his broadcasting career at WGHP-TV in High Point, North Carolina, and followed with stints in Salisbury, North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia. From 1970 to 1974 he called games for the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association.
In 1971, Brennaman began his career as a baseball radio announcer for the Tidewater Tides (now Norfolk Tides), the then-New York Mets' affiliate in the International League (Class AAA).
For the 1972 football season, he called the radio play-by-play action for the William & Mary Indians (now nicknamed the Tribe).
In 1973, Virginia Tech athletic director Frank O. Moseley hired Brennaman as the new voice of the Hokies. Brennaman was the first Tech broadcaster to call both football and basketball, but he left VT in 1974 to become the broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds.
Brennaman joined Joe Nuxhall on the Reds radio team in 1974. "Marty and Joe" became an institution in the city, appearing together in numerous radio and television commercials. Brennaman's trademark call of a Reds victory ("And this one belongs to the Reds!") was coined during his second game with the team. This same phrase was expected to be placed in lights, outside of the Great American Ball Park in 2003, but Hamilton County officials nixed the idea, citing that the ballpark belongs to the taxpayers and not the team. Instead, only Nuxhall's signature signoff, "...Rounding third and heading for home." was used.
On January 16, 2019, Brennaman announced he would retire following the 2019 season. He broadcast his final Reds game on September 26, 2019.
Hank Aaron's record-tying 714th career home run in 1974 (Brennaman's first regular season game as a Reds announcer)
Tom Seaver's only no-hitter in 1978 when Seaver was a member of the Reds
Pete Rose's record-breaking 4,192nd career hit in 1985
Tom Browning's perfect game in 1988
Ken Griffey Jr.'s 500th career home run in 2004 and his 600th in 2008
The Reds' World Series victories in 1975, 1976, and 1990
Roy Halladay's no-hitter (second in postseason history) in game one of the 2010 NLDS between Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
Jay Bruce's walk off home run to clinch the NL Central divisional title for the Reds in 2010.
Homer Bailey's no-hitters against the Pirates in 2012 and against the Giants in 2013.
Jake Arrieta's no-hitter against the Reds in 2016.
In 2000, Marty Brennaman won the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster "for major contributions to the game of baseball".
The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) has named Brennaman as Ohio Sportscaster of the Year 16 times and Virginia Sportscaster of the Year four times, for his versatility in calling baseball, football, and basketball games on both the collegiate and professional levels. In addition to the Virginia Squires and the Norfolk Tides, he has called games for the Indiana Pacers, Virginia Tech, and William and Mary, as well as NCAA men's basketball tournament games.
In 1999, Brennaman was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. In 2005 Brennaman was inducted into both the NSSA Hall of Fame and the National Radio Hall of Fame. On August 16, 2019, it was announced that Brennaman will be the only inductee to the Cincinnati Reds Hall Of Fame & Museum in 2020; the induction ceremony was scheduled to take place on April 26, 2020, but the ceremony eventually was pushed back to August 27, 2021 due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 1988, Brennaman and Nuxhall appeared before National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti at the NL office, in New York City in regards to accusations that Brennaman incited the crowd to cause a delay of game after an altercation between Reds manager Pete Rose and umpire Dave Pallone. After Rose was ejected from the game and Brennaman criticized Pallone during the live radio broadcast, fans littered the field with debris, leading to a game delay. Brennaman had this to say regarding the incident.
"I still maintain we were right", Brennaman said. "I'll never apologize for that. They accused us of inciting a riot. I don't think we did then and I don't think we did now."
On June 12, 2007, Brennaman made an on-air apology during the Cincinnati Reds Radio Network broadcast for a comment he had recently made comparing an upcoming road trip to the Bataan Death March. The Reds, who at the time held the worst record in the National League, were set to face the Oakland Athletics, the Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies on the road trip.
On April 17, 2008, during the top of the eighth inning of a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Brennaman made comments about Cubs fans and the Cubs team. This occurred after then-Reds player Adam Dunn connected for a home run. Several baseballs, including the home run ball, were thrown onto the field, resulting in a game delay as the field crew recovered the debris. Said Brennaman: "This is the kind of thing, quite honestly, right now, that makes you want to see the Chicago Cubs team lose. Among all baseball fans, and I can't attest to the Yankees or Red Sox, because we don't see them with any degree of regularity unless it's inter-league play, but far and away the most obnoxious fans in baseball, in this league, are those who follow this team right here. Throwing 15 or 18 balls onto the field, there's absolutely no excuse for that, and that is so typical of Chicago Cubs fans. It's unbelievable."
"You simply root against 'em. Y'know, I've said all winter they talked about this team winning the division, and my comment is they won't win it, because at the end of the day, they still are the Chicago Cubs, and they will figure out a way to screw this whole thing up."
On April 18, 2008, Brennaman appeared in an interview on Chicago sports radio station WMVP-AM 1000 in which he reinforced his position on Cubs fans, and compared Chicago Cubs fans to rival St. Louis Cardinals fans.
"If they can't understand what happened Wednesday night was completely over the top, then I'm sorry", Brennaman said. "I said how tough it is to root for the Cubs. I think a lot of people feel the same way I do, but they won't articulate it. I'm not afraid to say what I think."
"[Compared to Cubs fans] Cardinals fans are hands down the best in baseball. They respect the game. They don't go to the game to do stupid stuff."
"The Cubs have some great baseball fans. But the ones who act like idiots (ruin) it for people like me."
On February 5, 2010, Brennaman was chastised for commenting that Marshall University's president must be "queer" for softball at the university's baseball banquet and fundraiser. Brennaman stated, "I probably could have made a better choice of words, but in no way does that reflect my opinion about gays at all. It's just a comment I made about the president of the university."
Karen Briggs – violinist
Violinist Karen “Lady in Red” Briggs was born in New York City on August 12, 1963, and grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia. At an early age, Briggs displayed a natural talent for the violin and began playing many pieces by ear. While in high school, she received her first paying job, performing at a wedding for twenty dollars.
After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1981, Briggs attended Norfolk State College where she majored in music education and mass media. In 1983, during her sophomore year in college, she began playing with the Virginia Symphony where she performed for four years. She returned to New York City where she won three Amateur Nights at The Apollo Theater. After getting married in 1988 and moving to Los Angeles, California, Briggs began performing regularly at the jazz club Marla’s Memory Lane. In 1989, Briggs embarked on her first professional tour with Soul II Soul, performing throughout America and Japan. In 1991, Briggs successfully auditioned for Yanni, the Greek-American new age keyboard composer. Briggs most notable performance was during Yanni Live: At the Acropolis wearing the now infamous red dress. Following this performance, she spent the next thirteen years touring and recording with Yanni, in Tribute which was performed both at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and in the Forbidden City, in China.
Briggs made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1994, performing with pianist Dave Gruisin. She has also performed with a number of other artists over the years, including Stanley Clarke, the Wu Tang Clan, En Vogue and Chaka Khan. At the time of the interview, some of her current projects included recording with Hidden Beach Records and performing with the Unrapped Band.
Mahlon Clark – jazz musician
BornMarch 7, 1923
Portsmouth, Virginia, United States
DiedSeptember 20, 2007 (aged 84)
Occupation(s)Big band musician
Years activecirca 1933–2007
Mahlon Clark (March 7, 1923 – September 20, 2007) was an American musician who was a member of the Lawrence Welk orchestra from 1962 to 1968. His primary instrument was the clarinet.
Born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, Clark started out in vaudeville as a child. Later as a teenager, he became a big band musician playing for the Ray McKinley and Will Bradley bands, among others. Relocating to California during World War II, after serving in the armed forces, found employment at Paramount Pictures where he performed music on many movie soundtracks.
He was hired by Welk in 1962 to join his orchestra and his television show. For six years, he played both the clarinet and saxophone for a weekly national television audience and on stage when the Musical Family went out on tour. He was replaced by reedman Dave Edwards before the new TV taping sessions in 1968. After leaving the Welk organization, Clark continued to perform on many more movie soundtracks and with numerous artists such as Frank Sinatra and Madonna.
He was married twice, first to big band vocalist Imogene Lynn, whom he met while with Ray McKinley's band and later to Kathy Lennon of the Lennon Sisters.
Louis Bellson Swings Jule Styne (Verve, 1960)
Clarinetist for "Members of the Benny Goodman Orchestra" recordings for Crown Records 1960s-late 1970s.
LaTasha Colander – track and field sprint star, 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist (4 × 400 m)
Born August 23, 1976, in Portsmouth, Virginia, graduated from Woodrow Wilson in 1994, is a retired track and field sprinter who competed internationally for the United States. In 1994, on athletic scholarship, Colander enrolled at, and later graduated from, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In 1994, in the 100 m hurdles, Colander was the USA Juniors champion, and placed second in the World Junior Champs. Yet soon, she switched to sprints. In 2000 and 2001, she was the U.S. champion in the 400 m. In April 2000, her team set the women's world record in the 4 × 200 m relay, a record standing over 15 years onward.
In the 2000 Olympics, Colander won a gold medal in the 4 × 400 m relay. Upon her teammate Marion Jones's 2007 admission of illegal doping, the International Olympic Committee stripped the whole team's medals; in 2010, however, by a successful appeal, all team members except Jones had their medals restored.
Colander missed the 2001 World Championships because of a quadriceps injury. In 2003, she switched concentration to the 100 m, and won the 2004 US Olympic Trials in this shorter event. At the 2005 World Championships, she placed fifth in the 200 meters.
In 2000, Colander had established the LC Treasures Within Foundation, its mission to strengthen kids, families, and the world through education, sports, and spirituality.
In 2014, Colander was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Mark Steven Davis - Chief United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, Davis attended Longwood College in Farmville, VA, transferring to and receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia in 1984, and a Juris Doctor from Washington & Lee University School of Law in 1988. He was a law clerk for Judge John Ashton MacKenzie of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia from 1988 to 1989. He was in private practice in Virginia from 1989 to 2003, serving in Carr-Porter LLC as an expert on Maritime Law. He was a judge on the Portsmouth Circuit Court, Third Judicial Circuit of Virginia from 2003 to 2008.
Federal judicial service
On November 15, 2007, Davis was nominated by President George W. Bush to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia vacated by T. S. Ellis III. Davis was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 10, 2008, and received his commission on June 23, 2008. He became Chief Judge on December 4, 2018.
Bill Deal – beach music musician with group Bill Deal and the Rhondels
(8 July 1944–10 December 2003), musician, was born in Portsmouth and was the son of Noah Deal, a restaurant proprietor, and Sarah Mabel Ridenhour Deal, who died on 1 January 1951. Introduced to music by his guitarist father, he began playing piano as a child and performed regularly with local bands while attending Woodrow Wilson High School, graduating in 1961. Deal met Ammon Tharp, a drummer, at a show, and the two teenagers began appearing together at local venues. Because of their limited set list, they repeated songs throughout their performance, leading a friend jokingly to suggest that the duo call themselves the Rhondels, a term suggesting a poem with repeated lines.
While Deal studied business administration at Old Dominion College (later University), the Rhondels continued to perform throughout southeastern Virginia and in North Carolina. Calling himself Bill Deal because it sounded hip, he played piano on Jimmy Soul's recording of "If You Wanna Be Happy," which topped the music charts in 1963. The Rhondels' polka version of the soul song "May I" became a regional hit and caused the band to be named one of the Tidewater's entertainers of the year for 1968. Gene Loving, a local disc jockey and promoter, took the song to Heritage Records, a New York City–based subsidiary of MGM Records, which signed Bill Deal and the Rhondels, as they called themselves, to their first recording contract. With Deal on keyboards and Tharp on drums (and both sharing vocals), the eight-member band included a horn section and played a style of soul and rhythm and blues usually called blue-eyed soul or beach music, which was closely associated with the shag dancing that was popular along the Virginia and Carolina coast.
Released nationally by Heritage, "May I" entered the Billboard music charts in January 1969 and steadily moved up until peaking at number thirty-nine in mid-March. It sold about 400,000 copies in the United States. The group's next single, "I've Been Hurt," reached position thirty-five in Billboard in mid-June. An international smash reportedly selling more than 1,000,000 copies worldwide, it reached the top of the charts in Chile and Mexico and number two in Argentina and Brazil. The Rhondels' third consecutive hit, "What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am," peaked at twenty-three in Billboard late in September 1969. Their highest-charting song in the United States, it sold an estimated 750,000 copies and also climbed to number three in Germany. Their next release, "Swingin' Tight," rose to number eighty-five on the Billboard charts early in December. Their success during the year led Billboard to rank Bill Deal and the Rhondels eighth among new singles artists and forty-seventh among all singles artists for 1969.
The band's popularity continued the following year with "Nothing Succeeds Like Success," a song that by mid-April 1970 had reached sixty-two in Billboard. Although that was the last song to rank on the Billboard chart for Bill Deal and Rhondels, the group parlayed their success into performance dates across the country and in Canada. In June 1969 the band joined several other acts in playing at the Felt Forum, a concert venue at New York City's Madison Square Garden Center, and the following year they appeared on American Bandstand. During this time they also performed in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, as well as a three-week engagement in Mexico.
The physical and financial toll of touring caused the group to retire from the road early in the 1970s, by which time Deal co-owned a Virginia Beach nightclub called Rogue's Gallery. The group continued to perform regionally, but early in the 1980s he had tired of the music business, partly as a consequence of the murder of a band member. Deal sold his nightclub and began selling commercial real estate. In March 1987 he and Tharp came together for a one-time performance at a Virginia Beach nightclub. The successful concert and revival of beach music spurred them to reunite. They recorded an album, Sheiks of Shag, and performed by that name for a short time. For the next sixteen years they recorded new music and played at nightclubs, colleges, and summer festivals throughout the region. In November 1995 Bill Deal and the Rhondels were among the first groups inducted into the Carolina Beach Music Awards Hall of Fame, and the following year "I've Been Hurt" was included in the independent feature film Trees Lounge. Portsmouth's mayor declared 6 June 2003 Bill Deal Day at that year's Harborfest, and in September, at the second annual Legends of Music Awards, the band received a star on Norfolk's Legends of Music Walk of Fame.
Bill Deal & the Rhondels were an American pop band, formed in 1959 in Portsmouth, Virginia, crossing blue-eyed soul and beach music.
They had three hit singles in 1969, "May I" (U.S. #39), "I've Been Hurt" (U.S. #35), "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)" (U.S. #23). Their single "Swingin' Tight" reached (U.S. #85) in December 1969. "Nothing Succeeds Like Success" reached (US #63) on the charts in the spring of 1970. The band disbanded in 1975, but reformed and still carries on the tradition even after the passing of Bill Deal.
Perry Ellis – fashion designer
Ellis was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on March 3, 1940, the only child of Edwin and Winifred Rountree Ellis. His father owned a coal and home heating oil company, which enabled the family to live a comfortable middle-class life. Ellis graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1957. He then studied at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and graduated with a degree in business administration in 1961. To avoid the draft, Ellis enlisted in the United States Coast Guard Reserve with service that included six months of active duty with the Coast Guard. He graduated from New York University with a master's degree in retailing in 1963.
Ellis started out in department store retailing in the Richmond, Virginia, area to gain experience in the fashion industry as a buyer and merchandiser at the department store Miller & Rhoads. While there, he was co-founder of Richmond retail shop A Sunny Day. He later joined the sportswear company John Meyer of Norwich in Manhattan.
In the mid-1970s, he was approached by his then employer, The Vera Companies, famous for their polyester double-knit pantsuits, to design a fashion collection for them. In November 1976, Ellis presented his first women's sportswear line, called Portfolio. Although he was not a skilled sketcher, he knew exactly how the industry worked and proved a master of innovative ideas who created "new classics" that American women longed for at the time. He was initially known for his versions of the oversized, unconstructed, layered, natural-fiber, mid-1970s Big Look or Soft Look that was the leading fashion trend of the time, for which he was compared favorably to Kenzo, the 1973 originator of the look. Ellis enhanced this trend by creating substantial, hand-knit-looking sweaters in rough-hewn textures that combined well with the earthtones and loose shapes of the period. He would be known for his sweaters for the rest of his career.
Together with The Vera Companies' parent company, Manhattan Industries, he founded his own fashion house, Perry Ellis International, in 1978, opening his showroom on New York's Seventh Avenue. That same year, he interpreted the new big shoulders of the fall in a way that proved more popular with the US public than the extreme forties-revival looks emanating from Europe, adding large but soft shoulder pads to his familiar earthy textures in new, slimmed down, but still casual shapes. He explicitly endorsed the trend for layering one set of shoulder pads on top of another, which would become common in the 1980s, as would the flounced miniskirts, called rah-rah skirts in the UK, that he and Norma Kamali introduced the following year. His cropped pants, cropped sweaters, and dimpled sleeves of the end of the seventies were also influential.
As the company's chairman and head designer he later developed Perry Ellis Menswear Collection – marked by "non-traditional, modern classics." Step by step, he added shoes, accessories, furs and perfume that all bear his name. Throughout the 1980s, the Perry Ellis company continued to expand and include various labels, such as Perry Ellis Collection and Perry Ellis Portfolio.
During the first half of the 1980s, Perry Ellis was as prominent a US fashion name as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. He continued to be known for the sweaters, cropped trousers, and silhouette experimentation that he had begun at the end of the seventies, including the flippy miniskirts that he and Norma Kamali introduced in 1979. He was also known for the very high quality of his fabrics, most of which he imported from Europe.
In 1980, Ellis explored handmade knitwear, enlarged patterns, and enlarged Argyle and launched his first male collection. He also began that year to provide alternatives to the prominent shoulder-padding he had become known for in 1978, adding width instead with capelet collars and top-of-sleeve tucks and pleats. For spring of 1981, he presented soft corsets and hip-padded versions of the short skirts he had begun showing in 1979, and he began using a few more substantial fabrics for shaping. This former leader of the mid-seventies Big Look joined Fall 1981's brief return to that style with relish, showing longer lengths, loose layers, and harem pants with Cossack-inspired hats and capes, though the look this time was more structured, via cummerbunds, extended shoulders, and tulle petticoats.
In 1982, Perry Ellis won the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Designer of the year award, at a time when his company had more than 75 staff. He released his "Chariots of Fire" collection for spring of that year, continuing to show the longer lengths he had favored the previous fall, though never exclusively. For his fall 1982 collection, he tried his hand at some of the highly tailored suit styles that had dominated fashion since 1978, to a cooler-than-usual critical reception. In 1983, he showed high-waisted fit-and-flare skirts and slim trousers with short jackets.
He reduced the rise of the previous year's high waistband somewhat for Spring of 1984, when he presented a collection intended to suggest an idyllic Australia, replete with his well-loved cropped trousers, cropped jackets, and focus on long skirts. In 1984, Perry Ellis America was created in cooperation with Levi Strauss and he revived his lesser-priced Portfolio product line, filling it with the kind of soft, unlined, comfortable clothes he had shown in the mid-seventies, now updated with broader shoulders. His Fall 1984 collection for both men and women was an homage to artist Sonia Delaunay and focused on Ellis's trademark sweaters in Delaunay colors. Prints and slimmer, more minimal shapes were a focus for his Spring 1985 collection, with large florals, revealing cuts, and tunic sweaters prominent. These closer-to-the-body cuts would continue through the end of the year, enlivened by prints and colors inspired by Chinese porcelains.
In the early 1980s, wholesale revenues had figured at about $60 million. By 1986 that number had risen to about $260 million.
Highly praised professionally and personally, Ellis believed that "fashion dies when you take it too seriously." Of Perry Ellis's fashion design, Michael Bastian remarked that "no one did it better...He was able to be modern and yet not come off antiseptic." New York Times fashion columnist Bernadine Morris praised Ellis's tweeds and sweaters as "comfortable and forever-looking," with the "insouciant feeling of a college woman slipping into her boyfriend's jacket that is a size or so too big for her, or putting together a jacket and a pair of pants in patterns that don't quite match, but look quite appealing," while Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, described Ellis' fashion as "my way to step forward in fashion, but to still have a comfort level. It helped define my personality."
Ellis served as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) from 1984 to 1986.
In 1981, Ellis began a relationship with attorney Laughlin Barker. Later that year, Ellis appointed Barker the President of the licensing division of Perry Ellis International. They remained together until Barker's death in January 1986.
In February 1984, Ellis and his long-time friend, television producer and writer Barbara Gallagher, conceived a child together via artificial insemination. Their daughter, Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis, was born in November 1984. Ellis bought a home for Gallagher and their daughter in Brentwood, Los Angeles, and would visit frequently. In 2011, Tyler released her first line of handbags using the name Tyler Alexandra.
Illness and death
Further information: HIV/AIDS in the United States
In October 1985, rumors that Ellis had contracted AIDS began to surface when he appeared on the runway at the end of his Fall fashion show. By that time, Ellis had lost a considerable amount of weight and looked much older. Around the same time, Ellis' partner Laughlin Barker was undergoing chemotherapy for Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer that later metastasized to his lungs. Ellis continued to deny that he was sick, but rumors of his illness persisted after he passed out in the receiving line at a party at the Costume Institute in December 1985. On January 2, 1986, Barker died of lung cancer at the couple's home in Manhattan. After Barker's death, Ellis' health rapidly declined. By May 1986, Ellis had contracted viral encephalitis which caused paralysis on one side of his face. Despite his appearance, he insisted on appearing at his Fall fashion show held in New York City on May 8. At the end of the show, Ellis attempted to walk the runway for his final bow but was so weak, he had to be supported by two assistants. It was his final public appearance. Ellis was hospitalized soon after and slipped into a coma. He died of viral encephalitis on May 30, 1986. A spokesperson for Ellis' company would not comment on whether the designer's death was AIDS-related stating, "Those were Perry's wishes."
Most newspapers omitted the AIDS rumors from Ellis' obituary and simply attributed his death to encephalitis. In August 1986, New York magazine writer Patricia Morrisroe wrote a story about Ellis where she concluded that, "...many people believe Ellis had AIDS, and given the evidence, it seems likely." A 1993 article from the Associated Press included Ellis among its list of better known AIDS victims.
Steven Kolb defined Perry Ellis legacy with the following words: "In terms of men's fashion, he was the first to bring the idea of dressing up in a casual way to the American man". In 1986, the annual Perry Ellis Award—now known as the Swarovski Emerging Talent Award—was created to honor emerging talents in the world of men's and women's fashion designers. The first designer to receive it was David Cameron.
Though he worked as a designer for less than a decade, over 25 years after his death his work is "still seen as incredibly influential."
In 1999, Miami-based textile company Supreme International purchased the Perry Ellis brand from Salant, a licensee of Perry Ellis that acquired it from Manhattan Industries in 1986. Supreme renamed itself Perry Ellis International and the company became traded on the NASDAQ under PERY. Perry Ellis International also owns and licenses other notable fashion brands, such as Original Penguin by Munsingwear, Cubavera, C&C California, Rafaella, Laundry by Shelli Segal, Ben Hogan, Jantzen, Nike Swim and Callaway, among others.
In the twenty-first century, the Perry Ellis brand has continued to expand. Building upon styles set forth by Ellis, the brand has successfully continued to expand, collaborate with other designers, such as Duckie Brown, and hold critical acclaim.
During the CFDA awards at New York City's Lincoln Center in 1986, Ellis was posthumously awarded a Special Tribute.
Ellis won eight Coty Awards between 1979 and 1984, the last year that they were given.
He was presented with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Award in 1981.
In 2002, Ellis was honored with a commemorative white bronze plaque embedded into the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue in New York in the so-called Fashion Walk of Fame located on the part of Seventh Avenue called "Fashion Avenue."