No immediate cause of her death has been revealed so far. The model reportedly had a cardiac arrest several years ago, but it is unknown if she suffered from any other medical condition prior to her demise.
Ashley was one of the first British individuals to undergo gender reassignment surgery and the first transgender model to appear on Vogue. She was also appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her work with the transgender community.
A look back into the life of April Ashley
On April 29, 1935, April Ashley was born in Liverpool, England. She joined the merchant navy at the age of 16 but faced dishonorable discharge after attempting suicide.
At 17, Ashley was sent to the psychiatric unit of Ormskirk District General Hospital following a second suicide attempt. After her discharge, she moved to London in 1955.
She later moved to Paris and started working at a drag cabaret in the Caroussel Theatre under Toni April. With nearly £3,000 savings, Ashley decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery at 25.
On May 12, 1960, Dr. Georges Burou performed a historic seven-hour-long transitional surgery on Ashley in Casablanca, Morocco. The latter endured excessive pain and severe side-effects for nearly two years but had a successful transition.
Following her transition, April Ashley returned to Britain and launched a career in modeling with British Vogue. She became one of the most coveted models at the time and the face of Vogue magazine.
The Liverpool-native also bagged a role in the semi-musical comedy The Road to Hong Kong alongside Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. She was also in constant demand among recognized photographers at the time.
Unfortunately, April Ashley’s career was cut short after The Sunday People 'outed' her as a trans woman in 1961. Her story became immediate fodder for tabloids and she was caught in the middle of a controversy.
The model tied the knot with Arthur Cameron Corbett in 1963, but their marriage was declared invalid as Ashley’s transition was not legally accepted by the court. Following the divorce, the model migrated to the U.S. to avoid discrimination and constant scrutiny in her homeland.
On March 1, 1970, Ashley opened a restaurant called April and Desmonds, or AD8, at 8 Egerton Gardens Mews in Knightsbridge. Lord Lichfield later bought the hotel. In 1975, the model suffered a severe heart attack and moved to Hay-on-Wye.
She lived on the Welsh border for 11 years before moving to France, Spain, and the U.S. West Coast. The model reportedly tied the knot for the second time in 1980s. She married Jeffrey West on the RMS Queen Mary cruise ship in Long Beach, California.
She is believed to have maintained close friendships with Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole throughout her life. Elvis Presley reportedly admired her. She also had alleged affairs with Michael Hutchence, Turner Prize, and Grayson Perry.
April Ashley returned to the U.K. in 2005 after enacting the Gender Recognition Act. In 2012, The Queen honored her with Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to the transgender community.
In 1982, Duncan Fallowell published a biography titled April Ashley's Odyssey documenting the model’s memorable journey and hardships. In 2006, she published her autobiography, The First Lady, sharing excerpts from her life.
Ashley received a Lifetime Achievement honor at the European Diversity Awards in 2014. She was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 2016. The icon reportedly lived in South West London in the final days of her life.
Twitter mourns the loss of April Ashley
April Ashley made history when she risked her life to undergo one of the earliest gender reassignment surgeries in the U.K. She was later considered a trailblazer in the modeling industry and a prominent advocate of transgender rights.
The model opened up about surviving years of abuse, discrimination, and violence in her autobiography, but said she was proud of her identity. She became an inspiration to several people in her life and a role model to many.
Following the news of her demise, several fans, admirers and well-wishers took to Twitter to pour in their heartfelt tributes to the model:
As people continue to mourn the loss of April Ashley, she will certainly be deeply missed by fans and admirers. However, contemporaries and future generations will always cherish her legacy.