Early years - as a male - were spent in Massapequa Park, Long Island, New York where she and her mother had moved after her parents divorced. Her half-brother Warren, a product of Theresa Slattery's first marriage, left home for the U.S. military, leaving Jimmy as the only child; Warren later denied his connection to Jimmy.
Jimmy spent much of her childhood absorbing the influences of US television and old Hollywood movies, from which she learned to impersonate her favorite actresses, such as Joan Bennett and Kim Novak. She claimed to have "learned about the mysteries of sex from a salesman in a local children's shoe store" and finally revealed an inclination towards dressing as a female when her mother confronted her about local rumours which described her dressed as a girl frequenting a local gay bar called The Hayloft. In response Jimmy left the room and reappeared in full feminine attire. Her mother later said that, "I knew then... that I couldn't stop Jimmy. Candy was just too beautiful and talented."
Late at night Candy would often take a cab (thereby avoiding the attention of neighbors she would receive if she walked) a short distance to the Long Island Rail Road station for the train to Manhattan, frequently sitting across from Long Island starlet Joey Heatherton. Once there, she referred to her modest Cape-Cod style home at 79 First Avenue in Massepequa Park as her "country house" and hung out in Greenwich Village, meeting people through the circle of Seymour Levy on Bleecker Street.
Her first assumed name was Hope Slattery. According to Bob Colacello, Candy adopted this name sometime in 1963/1964 after she started going to gay bars in Manhattan and making visits to a doctor on Fifth Avenue for hormone injections. Jackie Curtis stated that Candy adopted the name from a well-known Off-Off Broadway actress named Hope Stansbury, with whom she lived for a few months in an apartment behind the Caffe Cino so that she could study her. Holly Woodlawn remembers that Candy's name evolved from Hope Dahl to Candy Dahl and then to Candy Cane. Jeremiah Newton believed Candy adopted her forename out of a love for sweets. In her autobiography, Woodlawn recalled that Candy had adopted the last name of Darling because a friend of hers affectionately called Candy "darling" so often that it finally stuck.
Before they actually met in 1967, Candy saw Andy Warhol at the after-hours club called The Tenth of Always. Candy was with Jackie Curtis, who invited Warhol to the play she had written and directed called Glamour, Glory and Gold. It was being performed at Bastiano's Cellar Studio on Waverly Place. Taylor Mead brought Andy to see it and afterwards went to the club Salvation in Sheridan Square, where he was joined by Candy and Jackie at his table.
It wasn't long before Warhol invited Candy to appear in one of his movies. She was given a short comedic scene in Flesh (1968) with Jackie Curtis and Joe Dallesandro. After Flesh, Candy was cast in a central role in Women In Revolt (1971). She played a Long Island socialite drawn into a woman's liberation group called PIGS (Politically Involved Girls) by a character played by Jackie Curtis. Interrupted by cast disputes encouraged by Warhol, Women in Revolt took longer to film than its predecessor and went through several title changes before a consensus was reached. Candy wanted it called Blonde on a Bum Trip since she was the blonde, while Jackie and Holly told her it was more like Bum on a Blonde Trip - titles which were both used in the film during Candy's interview scene.
Women in Revolt was first shown at the first Los Angeles Filmex as Sex. Later it was shown as Andy Warhol's Women, an homage to George Cukor. Unable to get a distributor for the film, Warhol rented out the Cine Malibu on East 59th Street, New York and launched the film with a celebrity preview on February 16, 1972. After the screening there was a dinner in Candy's honor at the restaurant, Le Parc Perigord on Park Avenue at 63rd Street, followed by a party at Francesco Scavullo's townhouse round the corner, where they watched TV reviews of the movie. They watched it being called "a rip-off", that it "looked as if it were filmed underwater," and "proves once again that Andy Warhol has no talent. But we knew that since the Campbell's Soup cans."
Among the guests at Candy's party were D.D. Ryan, Sylvia Miles, George Plimpton, Halston, Giorgio di Sant 'Angelo and Diane and Egon von Furstenberg. Jackie Curtis stood out in the cold, along with other gate crashers. When a security guard asked, "My God, what are they giving away in there?" one of the guests responded, "Would you believe, a transvestite?"
The day after the celebrity preview a group of women wearing army jackets, pea coats, jeans and boots and carrying protest signs demonstrated outside the cinema against the film, which they thought was anti-women's liberation. When Candy heard about this, she said, "Who do these dykes think they are anyway?... Well, I just hope they all read Vincent Canby's review in today's Times. He said I look like a cross between Kim Novak and Pat Nixon. It's true - I do have Pat Nixon's nose."
Candy Darling went on to appear in other independent films, including Brand X by Wynn Chamberlain, Silent Night, Bloody Night, as well as a co-starring role as a victim of gay bashing in Some of My Best Friends Are...
She also appeared in Klute (as an extra in the disco scene) with Jane Fonda and Lady Liberty with Sophia Loren. In 1971 she went to Vienna to make two films with director Werner Schroeter - The Death of Maria Malibran, and another one that was never released. Her attempt at cracking the mainstream movie circuit -- by campaigning for the leading role in Myra Breckinridge (1970) -- led to rejection and bitterness.
Theatre credits include two Jackie Curtis plays - Glamour, Glory and Gold (1967) and Vain Victory: The Vicissitudes of the Damned (1971) and Tennessee Williams' play, Small Craft Warnings, at the invitation of Williams himself. She also starred in the 1973 Off-Broadway revival of "The White Whore and the Bit Player", a 1964 play by Tom Eyen. Darling's character, a Hollywood actress known only as "the Whore", was based on Marilyn Monroe. As a review of the play stated, "With her teased platinum hair and practiced pouts, Miss Darling looks like her character and resolutely keeps her acting little-girl-lost. The role-playing aspect works to her advantage. She could, after all, be a male lunatic pretending to be the White Whore.
Candy succumbed to leukemia and pneumonia on March 21, 1974, aged about 29; she died at the Columbus Hospital division of the Cabrini Health Center. She allegedly developed leukemia as a result of the hormones she had been taking, the long-term results of which had not been sufficiently studied; however this is still highly contested. In a letter written on her deathbed and intended for Andy Warhol and his followers, Darling said, "Unfortunately before my death I had no desire left for life . . . I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death. (D)id you know I couldn't last. I always knew it. I wish I could meet you all again.
Her funeral was attended by huge crowds, including friends Pat Ast and Julie Newmar; a piano piece was played by Faith Dane; Gloria Swanson was remembered for saluting Darling's coffin. The New York Times honored her request that her obituary should appear on the front page of that newspaper.
Candy Darling was cremated, her ashes interred by her friend Jeremiah Newton in the Cherry Valley Cemetery, located in Cherry Valley, New York, a tiny historical village located at the foot of the Catskill Mountains.
Currently in production is a documentary entitled Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol Superstar Candy Darling featuring interviews with Fran Lebowitz, Pat Hackett, Peter Beard and Taylor Meade. The documentary's executive producers are Paul Morrissey and Jeremiah Newton. The director is James Rasin, and the producer is Gill Holland.
Greer Lankton famously made a bust of Candy that was displayed at the 1995 Whitney biennial.
An image of her, taken from Women In Revolt, was also featured on the front cover of the 1989 single "Sheila Take a Bow" by the English group The Smiths. This was in keeping with lead singer Morrissey's penchant for using photographs of sometimes obscure cultural icons on the band's record sleeves.
Also on Morrissey's album You Are the Quarry; the last song of the album is called "You Know I Couldn't Last".