Ethyl Eichelberger was born James Eichelberger on July 17, 1945 in Pekin, Ill. His parents were Amish. He went on to attend Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. After leaving Knox, Eichelberger attended the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts.
After graduating, Eichelberger moved onto become a character actor with the Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, R.I. He later moved to New York, changed his name to Ethyl and became a well-known drag and experimental performer. Eichelberger won an Obie award before killing himself in 1995. Eichelberger had been unable to tolerate the effects of AZT and AIDS.