PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Darcelle, who came to life through Walter Cole, was honored at a public memorial at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland Tuesday night.
This celebration of life comes about a month after Darcelle XV Showplace announced his death on Thursday, March 23. The groundbreaking drag queen died from natural causes at the age of 92. At his death he held the Guinness World Record for being the oldest drag performer.
A celebration is exactly want Darcelle wanted, that’s not to say there were not tears, but the Darcelle and Walter drew people to them with their kindness, their willingness to help and desire to have a good time.
“Darcelle always liked to believe in happiness and good wealth,” said Ciara Delarosa, a friend of the drag icon. “Look around Portland. We could use that. We need that to hope for happiness and something better, and Darcelle always stood for that.”
Cole grew up in Northwest Portland’s Linnton neighborhood and served in the military before returning to the city. By the 1960s, he was living with his wife and two children in Southeast Portland.
In 1967, Cole opened the Demas tavern that would one day become Darcelle’s XV Showplace. But back then, it was a lesbian bar where he would sometimes perform under his drag persona Darcelle.
By 1969, Darcelle had become a prominent figure in Portland. During this same time, Cole came out as gay and left his wife. He then started a relationship with artistic director Roxy Neuhardt.
Throughout his life, Cole built a legacy that impacted the next generation of drag queens — not just in Portland, but all over the world.
“This is part of Oregon’s history,” said former Gov. Barbara Roberts. “This is obviously part of Portland’s history, and Darcelle was a history maker.”
Current Gov. Tina Kotek said that “being Darcelle was Walter Cole’s superpower.”
“In Darcelle’s memory, there is hope and joy that we can bring together all of us by being our authentic selves,” Kotek said.
This memorial brought people to Portland from around the country. Hotel Lucia, Dossier Hotel, Sentinel Hotel and Hotel Deluxe all offered discounted rates for out-of-town guests.
The memorial represented the life Darcelle led with constant positivity, impacting those in her orbit.
“I was having a hard time bringing my positive image on stage, and she reminded me, no matter what’s going on in your life, start with a smile and end with a smile – no matter what,” said drag queen Kitty Kariall.
Anyone who couldn’t attend the memorial event in-person can stream it on YouTube.
KOIN 6 News will have more information later in the night.