PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland lost one of its icons when Walter Cole, the performer behind the famous drag queen Darcelle, died Thursday at the age of 92.
For half a century, Darcelle inspired the queer and trans community and knocked down barriers for them along the way – showing so many people to be themselves and not care what the outside world thinks.
Loved ones left flowers at Cole’s home on Friday, and the same could be seen at Darcelle’s showtime in Old Town as a tribute to the fabulous life he lived.
Rick Jung, the director of Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, said the group will be dedicating their shows to Darcelle this weekend.
“I think the kind of the grief that the community is feeling today, with the loss of an icon, it just speaks a lot about their position and the impact they’ve had in our community for many, many, many years,” Jung said.
The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus performances will be Saturday and Sunday at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts.
Darcelle’s showtime will be celebrating Cole and Darcelle’s life Friday at 7 p.m. As Darcelle would always say: “The show must go on.”
He bought a tavern in 1967 that started as a lesbian bar, and Cole would start his drag performances there. After coming out as gay and finding his partner Roxy Nuehardt, the drag queen Darcelle was born.
She inspired the queer community as one of the first visible drag queens to enter the public sphere at that time. She also raised money for charities of all kinds while supporting queer and trans youth in Portland.
Allen Cole, a friend of Darcelle, said it’s why Darcelle will be remembered as a pioneer.
“When she came out and was known as Darcelle through her charity and her fundraising, people just started opening their doors and now people can walk the streets holding hands and being in drag and being visible and have no recourse.”
Decades ago, KOIN 6 took Darcelle up in a helicopter – flying over Cole’s childhood home – to reflect on all they had accomplished, even then.
“I wouldn’t change one minute of Walter’s life,” he said as Darcelle. “Look at the things I get to do. I get to be involved in everything.”