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Viral story of “Tanqueray” raises $2.5 million for her home healthcare and offers wisdom on aging
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Viral story of “Tanqueray” raises $2.5 million for her home healthcare and offers wisdom on aging

During the week of September 21, the popular blog “Humans of New York” featured a 33-part series on one of its most colorful characters yet: a 76-year-old woman known as “Tanqueray,” whose story ended up going viral and raising over $2.5 million to cover her healthcare. 

The previous winter, like one in four older adults, Tanqueray suffered a fall. Ever since, she has not been able to walk, and because she hasn’t qualified for Social Security or Medicare, she hasn’t been able to afford healthcare. She lives alone and has struggled to keep things together. Her situation is a reality for many older adults; in the U.S., the rate of older adults living alone is higher than anywhere else in the world, and millions cannot afford the rising costs of their healthcare.

While her situation is common in these respects, however, in most ways Tanqueray (who’s real name is Stephanie Johnson) is extraordinary. In the blog series, she recounts her experiences as an elite burlesque dancer in the 1960s and ‘70s, which entail twists, turns and insightful reflections that have earned her millions of fans. Covered by Oprah Magazine at the beginning the week, and the New York Times at the end, she is beloved for her candor and resilience. 

Many of her most poignant reflections pertain to her age.

“The city has changed so much,” she says. “New York used to be a lot better. Maybe it was better cause I was younger. Or maybe it was better cause it was better.” 

Concerned primarily about gentrification, she continues: “There’s nowhere to go that people can get to know each other. Or if there is a place to go—you need a corporate credit card just to afford a drink. And not everybody has it like that. What about the regular people? They used to have choices too.” 

After her fall, her choices have become even more limited. “Not much goes on in this apartment,” she explains. “Nothing really changes but the TV channels.” Like many older adults, her fall seemed to mean both literally and figuratively that the world was passing by too quickly for her to keep up.

However, reflecting back on the blog series and all it has meant for her, she muses: “It was starting to feel like everything that was going to happen to me had already happened. There was nothing left but a bunch of stories. And those aren’t worth much when there’s nobody to listen. But then I got this one last gig. Right as the curtain was coming down, I get this one last chance to be on stage. One last chance to be Tanqueray.” 

Readers young and old have come together to ensure she lives out her remaining years in dignity. With the funds the series raised, the blogger Brandon Stanton has arranged for her apartment to be cleaned, hired a 24-hour home health aide, hired a physical therapist to visit multiple times each week, and begun addressing her rent and eviction notices. Whatever funds remain at the end of her life she has promised to donate to the Association to Benefit Children, a nonprofit that serves underprivileged children in New York.

Image credit: Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York

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Tanqueray's story resonates the reality of being older and alone in the universe. I am so grateful to those who assisted in the funding that she so badly needed. But not all such stories end this way. Please world do not forget those who have been instrumental in the building of you as individuals and in the building of this country. Give back by visiting and acknowledging the importance of their presence. Take care of their needs as they have done for you because they matter.

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