Walter Cole, who performed for decades as iconic drag queen Darcelle XV, has died aged 92.
Darcelle was crowned the world’s oldest working drag performer in 2016 by the Guinness Book of World Records. The performer’s death from natural causes was announced on Facebook by the club she ran in Portland, Oregon, that was named after her drag persona.
“The family of Darcelle XV along with her cast and crew are heartbroken to announce that our beloved Darcelle (Walter W. Cole, Sr.) has died at age 92 from natural causes,” the statement read. “We ask for privacy and patience as everyone processes and grieves in their own way and at their own pace.”
The club indicated that performances would continue as scheduled at the club in tribute. “Please join us and celebrate her legacy and memory, thank you in advance for your continued support,” they added.
The club provided a lifeline for many in the city’s LGBTQ community, including Cole. Cole preferred female pronouns when performing, but told The Oregonian he preferred male pronouns off-stage.
Walter W. Cole, Sr. was born in 1930 and later served in the military before being discharged in the late 1950s. Before coming out as gay years later, he was married to a woman and shared two children with her.
It was the money that Cole saved up from his military service that helped him become a business owner, which would later lead to him owning his own club.
He started out by buying a coffeehouse, and later he purchased a tavern that was repurposed as the Darcelle XV Showplace when it opened in 1967.
Darcelle reportedly developed her stage name as a tribute to the French singer and actress Denise Darcel, who starred as the female lead opposite Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster in the classic 1954 Western film Vera Cruz.
In 2021, Darcelle was featured in the documentary Maisie, which focused on her friend David Raven, better known as Maisie Trollette, who holds the distinction of being the oldest drag queen in the UK.
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