Portland’s beloved, original drag queen superstar Darcelle passed away last week at the age of 92. Darcelle paved the way for generations of LGBTQ+ performers and activists and created a strong community that changed mainstream culture. Darcelle opened doors for public acceptance, respect and celebration of LGBTQ+ people everywhere. Her nightclub, Darcelle XV, opened in 1967 and continues to be the oldest operating drag club in the West and is on the Oregon Register of Historic Places. Darcelle herself held the Guinness World Record for the world’s oldest performing drag queen.
McMenamins had the great honor of being joined by Darcelle at the opening festivities of Al’s Den in the Crystal Hotel in 2011, and she spoke at a number of History Pubs over the years, including at the 2016 OPB film premiere of the documentary about her life, 𝐷𝑎𝑟𝑐𝑒𝑙𝑙𝑒 𝑋𝑉: 𝐴𝑛 𝑂𝑟𝑒𝑔𝑜𝑛 𝐸𝑥𝑝𝑒𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒.
In his interview with OPB, Darcelle Showplace co-host Poison Waters (aka: Kevin Cook) described the feeling audiences get from shows at Darcelle XV: “People tend to leave a little sparklier…than they entered. Sometimes not literally, but in their hearts.” And he remembers Walter Cole’s big heart: “He was just so generous with his time and with his wisdom and with his energy. … He was very empathetic and not judgmental…” Cook sums up his mentor’s ethos simply with words that Cole repeated over the years, words of wisdom to all of us: “be kind.”