A varied career that includes palling around with Warhol, performing with the Groundlings and emceeing Cirque du Soleil.

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Cats may have nine lives, but Joey Arias has already lived enough lifetimes to fill 10 books. He’s played in a teen rock band, been an early member of innovative Los Angeles comedy troupe the Groundlings, performed with David Bowie alongside experimental New Wave singer Klaus Nomi on “Saturday Night Live,” become a drag superstar in New York City in the ’90s, and emceed a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas.

And now, he’s singing Billie Holiday for a centennial tribute — performing “Strange Fruit,” “Don’t Explain” and “Violets For Your Furs,” at The Triple Door this Thursday, June 18.

Though he’s been all over the world, Seattle is where, he says, he first performed a full set in his persona as Holiday-channeling-chanteuse, at the Re-bar when it opened in 1990. Local performer and producer Paula Sjunneson, known as The Swedish Housewife, brought him to perform.

Concert preview

Billie Holiday Centennial Concert

7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 18, at the Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $20 advance tickets, $25 at the door (206-838-4333 or thetripledoor.net)

“We put all these songs together and that was actually the first time I did a full set and I think it was almost two hours long, because people were going crazy,” he recalled. “We did Mamas and Papas, and Jimi Hendrix, all with the Billie Holiday style, with the Billie Holiday songs.”

“I love Seattle. There were so many fun stories. That town was crazy. That was the beginning of grunge, also,” he said.

How Arias went from the Groundlings in L.A. and playing in a teen band signed to Capitol Records to singing Billie Holiday songs at Lincoln Center with an orchestra is a long, strange trip, indeed.

Born in North Carolina, he lived in Los Angeles till he was 19, and drove across the country with Kim Hastreiter, the co-founder of Paper magazine, to go to New York, “to be reborn.”

In New York, “I wanted to be a part of the art world, I wanted to meet Andy Warhol, I wanted to be with all the crazies and people that I’d seen in films and in Interview magazine,” he said. “[The people in] the subculture, the underground were my superheroes. I wanted to be part of that. When I got here the city was crumbling and crazy and everything was possible. The city was on fire, literally. It was exciting as hell.”

He was soon a part of that world, ending up at an Italian-fashion boutique on 59th Street, Fiorucci, as a salesman and a manager. “It was very futuristic and modern,” he said. “Once a month there was a party there. At 8 p.m., they would close the store down and have a party with Andy Warhol signing a book or an Italian director popping in.”

It was an exciting time to be in New York — “Blondie wasn’t even signed yet,” he said — but he quit the store to focus on his own work.

“A friend of mine said, ‘You can’t be working in the arts and be a salesperson or a stylist, whatever you are doing. You gotta make a choice, otherwise it’s never going to go anywhere.’ ”

He’d been performing with Nomi and would sing a stray Billie Holiday song here and there, usually at the request of friends at parties. At one such party, with Warhol in attendance, he sang for the famous artist.

“He looked at me, and said, ‘Wow, I love your new voice. That’s not Billie Holiday’s voice. That’s you. That’s your new voice.’ ”

It was at Wigstock, the infamous, now-defunct drag festival, where he debuted an early incarnation of his current persona, which has shades of Bettie Page with black blunt-cut bangs, a tight, high ponytail and sleek eyeliner (The Thierry Mugler-designed costumes would come later). The look was a nod to Holiday’s on the cover of “Lady In Satin.”

The rest is, as they say, history. Arias’ career path has been wildly unpredictable — going from Manhattan’s West Village clubs to Vegas’ glittering stages, where he emceed Cirque’s du Soleil’s “Zumanity” for six years, to Lincoln Center this year. The performance earned him a rave review from The New York Times’ Stephen Holden, who wrote: “Mr. Arias understands the risks and rewords of playing with fire.”

“My life has always been this — I’m thinking I’m gonna go down one way and I hear like a weird sound that attracts my attention and I go off track, literally taking me to a different direction to get to what I think I’m looking for,” Arias said. “You think you’re supposed to do one thing, and there’s a little sound inside of you saying, ‘Mmmm you need to do it this way.’ ”