Sparkle Plenty, a Playboy bunny with a comic strip name who made national headlines when she entered a hotly contested congressional race in New Mexico, died June 19. She was 77.
Plenty had been in declining health. She battled lupus for most of her adult life and had heart surgery a couple of years ago.
“I think everything just caught up with her,” said Linda Durham, a close friend who used to own a local gallery.
Born Cheryl Boone, Plenty grew up in Roselle Park, N.J., before moving to New York in the early 1960s, where she met Durham, who also worked as a Playboy bunny.
When Durham moved to New Mexico a few years later, Plenty came to visit and fell in love with Santa Fe. She would spend the rest of her life in the City Different.
Around that time, she changed her name legally to Sparkle Plenty, a character from the Dick Tracy detective cartoon.
Although the decision might seem unusual today, you have to remember this was the heyday of the hippies, when many were looking for an escape from the mainstream, Durham said.
“Many of us from that generation did things that were seen as out of character by our parents,” she said.
Plenty wore bell-bottoms, frequented hippie hangouts and drove a 1952 Chevy truck with sunflower upholstery.
“She was definitely representative of the times,” said Douglas Magnus, who befriended Plenty in the early 1970s.
Like many men, Magnus was struck by her beauty.
She was “this absolutely gorgeous blond,” he said. “To me, she looked like Marilyn Monroe.
“She was in so many ways larger than life because she had such a commanding smile. … She was just living large and having a really great time.”
In 1972, a U.S. Supreme Court decision created uncertainty over whether New Mexico could require candidates to pay a $2,500 filing fee to enter congressional and statewide races. The court’s ruling led to a crowded field of candidates, many of them political unknowns, in that year’s primary election.
At the time, Plenty was a 28-year-old cocktail waitress at the Bull Ring restaurant, a popular hangout for politicians. A group of them dared her to run for a U.S. House seat.
“They gave her the idea, first as a joke, then she took them up on it,” Durham said.
Plenty was among five candidates who sought the Democratic congressional nomination for the state’s northern district. Her campaign focused on environmental issues, such as land and water protection, but she also opposed the war in Vietnam and called for total amnesty for conscientious objectors.
Some said she was running simply for the attention, a charge she denied. At a news conference announcing her candidacy, she told reporters: “I’m not in this for the publicity. Even if I should get a movie contract, I would use the money to start ecological foundations. I’m a serious candidate.”
Yet few took her campaign seriously. Although her name garnered attention — the New York Times and other national publications wrote about her congressional bid — it also was a political liability.
Many in the audience snickered when she was introduced at a “meet the candidates” event in Albuquerque.
“Here she is, folks, right out of the comics,” the emcee said. “Did you bring B.O. with you? Did you bring Gravel Gertie?”
Still, she refused to admit that her name cost her votes. “Are people voting for a name or what they believe in?” she told The New Mexican just before the election.
Of the five candidates in the Democratic primary, Plenty finished last.
“I just thought it was real gutsy of her” to run, Magnus said. “I was real proud of her.”
Shortly after the race, she was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic condition in which the body’s immune system attacks normal cells and tissues.
“I suddenly developed severe pains all through my body,” she said in a 1976 interview. “My weight went down to 90 pounds. I went to the hospital. No one knew what was wrong with me.”
Lupus “had a big impact on her ability to get out and carry on the lifestyle she had” before the diagnosis, Magnus said. “From then on, she was a much quieter person. She didn’t really appear on the local radar screen that much.”
Plenty is survived by her son, Seamus McGorty, and two brothers, Nick and Robert Sverchek. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.