FILE - Darcelle appears on stage at Cole's Portland, Ore. nightclub Darcelle XV during a show on Dec. 3, 1998. Walter C. Cole, better known as the iconic drag queen who performed for decades as Darcelle, has died of natural causes in Portland, Ore, on Thursday, March 24, 2023. (Jay Reiter/Statesman Journal via AP, File)

A Heartfelt Farewell: Darcelle, World’s Oldest Drag Performer, Bids Adieu at 92

In a solemn moment, the curtain falls upon Walter Cole, the unparalleled drag queen and Portland’s LGBTQ+ champion, who breathed life into the iconic Darcelle XV. At 92, nature took its course, leaving behind a legacy that spans over five decades.

When the Guinness Book of World Records acknowledged Darcelle as the oldest working drag performer in 2016, it was a testament to her unwavering commitment to the craft. From hosting the West Coast’s longest-running drag show to supporting LGBTQ+ rights, Darcelle’s impact was profound.

The Grieving Darcelle XV Showplace

Darcelle XV Showplace, the nightclub she forged over half a century ago, lamented the loss via Facebook. The statement, tinged with sorrow, requested privacy and patience.

Having evolved into a cultural institution by the 1970s, the club secured its spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020. It stood proudly as Oregon’s first site nominated for its contributions to LGBTQ+ history.

A Beacon of Hope for the LGBTQ+ Community

During a time when the LGBTQ+ community faced overwhelming challenges, Darcelle XV Showplace offered invaluable support. Todd Addams, Basic Rights Oregon’s interim executive director, heralded Darcelle as an inspiring figure who transformed countless lives through advocacy, charity, and performances.

Darcelle’s Enduring Legacy

Susan Stanley, writer and confidante of Cole, reminisced about the nightclub as a sanctuary of “warmth and affection.” She lauded Darcelle for emboldening others to take the stage and conquer their fears. Cole, a gay man, spoke of his alter ego in the third person using female pronouns, underscoring the significance of his persona as an entertainer.

Navigating the Current Political Landscape

With a heavy heart, Stanley voiced her concerns about the increasing polarization surrounding drag and the potential regression of attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community.

Celebrating the Life of Darcelle

Born in 1930, Cole’s early years unfolded in Portland’s Linnton neighborhood. Military service in the U.S. Armed Forces paved the way for entrepreneurial pursuits, culminating in the establishment of Darcelle XV Showplace in 1967. Just two years later, Cole fashioned the persona of Darcelle and publicly embraced his sexuality. The Showplace soon blossomed into a haven for cabaret and drag aficionados.

Honoring Darcelle’s Memory

An outpouring of emotion flooded social media as fans, public figures, and politicians—including Portland’s mayor and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden—mourned Cole’s passing. In line with Darcelle’s wishes, the Showplace confirmed that all shows would continue, and a public memorial is in the works. The statement expressed gratitude for the unwavering support and encouraged everyone to cherish and celebrate Darcelle’s incredible legacy.