Darcelle, world’s oldest working drag queen, dies at 92
the associated press
PORTLAND, Ore. — Walter Cole, better known as the iconic drag queen who performed for decades as Darcelle XV and a fearless advocate for Portland’s LGBTQ+ community, has died of natural causes in Portland, Oregon. He was 92.
Darcelle, who died Thursday, was crowned the world’s oldest working drag performer in 2016 by the Guinness Book of World Records and was regaling audiences until the very end. As a performer, Darcelle was known for hosting the longest-running drag show on the U.S. West Coast. Off stage, Cole, an Army veteran, championed LGBTQ+ rights and charitable work in Portland.
The nightclub that Darcelle opened more than 50 years ago in downtown Portland, Darcelle XV Showplace, posted a statement on Facebook expressing grief and asking for privacy and patience.
The club, which had become a Portland cultural institution by the 1970s, was listed in 2020 on the National Register of Historic Places, making it the first site in Oregon to be nominated specifically for its significance in LGBTQ+ history. In the venue’s early days in the 1970s and 1980s, it was seen as taboo and protesters picketed outside, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
It provided a lifeline for many in the city’s LGBTQ community, including Cole, he told the newspaper in a 2010 interview. Cole preferred female pronouns when performing, but told The Oregonian he preferred male pronouns off-stage.
“If I hadn’t admitted who I was, I’d probably be dead now,” he told the paper. “I’d be sitting on a couch retiring from … management. Not for me.”
“She touched the lives of so many, not only through her performances but also through her fearless community advocacy and charitable works,” said Todd Addams, the interim executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, speaking of Darcelle. “She was nothing short of an icon.”
Writer Susan Stanley described the club a place of “warmth and affection” where performers were “glittering in sequins and satin and a shimmering froth of feathers,” in what’s credited as the first profile of Darcelle XV, published in Willamette Week in 1975.
On Friday, fans including Portland’s mayor mourned Cole’s death on social media. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said in a social media post that “Darcelle carved out an unforgettable chapter in Portland’s history” with “pioneering courage.”