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World’s Oldest Working Drag Queen, Darcelle, Dies at 92

Walter C. Cole, better known as the iconic drag queen who performed for decades as Darcelle XV, has died of natural causes in Portland, Oregon. Cole was 92.

Darcelle, who died Thursday, was crowned the world’s oldest working drag performer in 2016 by the Guinness Book of World Records and was regaling audiences until the very end.

As a performer, Darcelle was known for hosting the longest-running drag show on the U.S. West Coast. Off stage, Cole championed LGBTQ+ rights and charitable work in the Portland community.

The nightclub that Darcelle opened more than 50 years ago in downtown Portland, Darcelle XV Showplace, said it was heartbroken in a Facebook post.

“We ask for privacy and patience as everyone processes and grieves in their own way and at their own pace,” the club said. They also said that details of a public memorial will be announced and all shows at the Showplace will go on as scheduled, per Darcelle’s wishes. “Please join us and celebrate her legacy and memory, thank you in advance for your continued support,” it concluded.

The club, which had become a Portland cultural institution by the 1970s, was listed in 2020 on the National Register of Historic Places, becoming the first site in Oregon to be nominated specifically for its significance in LGBTQ+ history. Fans mourned the death on social media, including Portland’s mayor and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who said “Darcelle carved out an unforgettable chapter in Portland’s history” with her “pioneering courage.”

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