PORTLAND, Ore. — Dubbed "the bold, the blonde and the beautiful," Darcelle XV left life's stage this week at the age of 92 after a life well-lived in the city she loved.
“Darcelle always loved Portland, a native Portlander who grew up in Linnton and he always wore that as a badge of pride wherever he traveled,” Kevin Cook told KGW on Friday.
Cook is known on stage as Poison Waters. He said he learned a lot from Walter Cole, the man who performed as Darcelle, both as a close friend and working with him as a female impersonator.
Cole was born in 1930, served in the military as a young man and later married and became a father. But he eventually came out as his true self, a gay man, at a time when that was much less accepted.
Cook said that Cole's courage made a difference for those who followed.
“He did so much work on behalf of all of us without even intending to, just a one-man activist crew. He was just living his life,” said Cook.
That life included a flair for theatre and the dramatic. Cole's alter ego Darcelle truly became larger than life, leading the way in shows at the former tavern in northwest Portland. Cole bought the place in 1967 and turned it into the Darcelle XV Showplace nightclub.
KGW celebrated Darcelle's first two decades on her Rose City stage in 1988. Before taking the stage, the iconic drag queen said, “You can do this for 20 years and before that curtain comes up, your nerves are as tight as the first night you ever worked."
But Cole was much more than his onstage persona. A leader for the entire community, he helped others in many ways — even delivering for a food drive in drag.
Darcelle rode proud in many parades, including as grand marshal of the Starlight Parade — and doing the same for the Portland’s Pride Parade in 2010.
“And you know today my thoughts are really around the impact on the community — Darcelle's legacy, the example that Walter, Darcelle set for the rest of us in lifting up and serving community,” said Debra Porta, executive director of Northwest Pride.
Darcell lifted up her voice with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, the final time in 2019 for a concert recognizing the Stonewall riots.
Chorus executive director Richard Jung will honor Darcelle before concerts this weekend.
“And basically say that while Portland has lost a glittering star in its firmament, I fully expect to see a new star in the heavens above, that would be Darcelle — because they will always be here and always be part of this community," said Jung.
Cole would no doubt love that, and maybe echo what he said about his life in 2019, exclaiming, "Fantastic, I wouldn't change a day."
Loved ones say that Cole died of natural causes. Cole's longtime partner Roxy LeRoy Neuhardt passed away in 2017 at the age of 82. And just as Darcelle wanted, the show will go on at her club in Portland's Old Town.