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‘The show must go on’: Darcelle’s cast tributes performance to iconic drag queen

By Joelle Jones,


PORTLAND, Ore. ( KOIN ) – As Portland grieves the loss of an icon with the passing of Walter Cole Thursday night, “the show must go on” at Darcelle’s downtown showroom – just as the beloved drag queen would have wanted.

The Friday performance marks the first since Cole – better known by his drag persona Darcelle – passed away at the age of 92 .

With a packed house and a growing memorial of flowers on stage left, friends, patrons and cast showed out to celebrate the life of the performer who “painted the way.”

Longtime friends and fellow drag performers Mr. Mitchell and Poison Waters told KOIN 6 that Darcelle was unwavering in her commitment to the show and the community of Portland.

“This is the legacy sitting before standing before us I guess I mean, there’s drawers back here that are still full of costumes,” Mr. Mitchell said.

Fan-made street sign honors iconic drag queen Darcelle in downtown Portland

A cast member at the Darcelle XV showplace, Mr. Mitchell said that to honor Darcelle’s legacy and memory, closing the doors was never an option.

“We had to do this. We couldn’t say, ‘Sorry folks, we’re not doing Friday and Saturday nights this week.’ Why? Darcelle wouldn’t have wanted that,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Darcelle would have said, ‘Go, get out there.’ She told me a couple of nights ago, she said, ‘Stay in show business. Don’t give up.”

Poison Waters agreed, adding that it was never a question that they wouldn’t have a show.

“People often say, ‘Well how is the show without Darcelle?’ Well, it’s certainly not the Darcelle show, but it is the show that she created,” Poison Waters said.

By living authentically for more than 50 years – Darcelle has mesmerized thousands of audience members in Portland – going on to become the “world’s oldest working drag queen.”

Mr. Mitchel knew he wanted to perform with Cole the moment he saw her show for the first time.

“Curtain opened and I was mesmerized,” Mr. Mitchell said. “And after the show I said, ‘I have to be in this show.'”

Another cast member named Poison Waters had a similar experience.

“Oh my gosh, this person just floated in with this big white blond hair, all these jewels, and glitz, and glamor. And I was instantly awestruck.. And kind of afraid,” Poison Waters said.

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And amid recent attacks against drag across the nation, the performers put on a spectacular show Friday (per Darcelle’s dying wish) in tribute to the icon whose work continues to break barriers.

“A lot of that comes from Darcelle and the work that Darcelle’s done, to show (which you think doesn’t need to be shown, but it did need to be shown) that drag queens are people too,” Poison Waters said. “We’re not hurting anybody, we’re not hurting society. We’re adding to it. We’re adding to the joy in the entertainment landscape. When we see things going on in other parts of the country, of course, it breaks our hearts. So all we can do is keep doing what we’re doing.”

It’s clear to see by all the beautiful photos enshrined on the walls that Darcelle’s legacy will continue to live on at the showroom.

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