Darcelle XV was crowned the oldest drag queen by Guinness World Records in 2016.
Darcelle XV, the Guinness World Record holder for oldest drag queen performer, has died aged 92 of natural causes.
“The family of Darcelle XV along with her cast and crew are heartbroken to announce that our beloved Darcelle (Walter W. Cole, Sr.) has died at age 92 from natural causes,” Darcelle XV Showplace, her Portland cabaret announced on Instagram. “We ask for privacy and patience as everyone processes and grieves in their own way and at their own pace.”
Walter Cole, better known as the iconic drag queen Darcelle XV, was crowned the oldest drag queen by Guinness World Records in 2016. The Darcelle XV Showplace, which she owned, is “the West Coast’s longest running drag show,” according to Guinness.
Off stage, Cole, an Army veteran, was a fearless advocate for Portland's LGBTQ+ community and much charitable work in Portland.
Cole was born in 1930 and raised in Portland's Linnton neighbourhood. He served in the US Armed Forces and was discharged in the late 1950s, according to the club's website, which says he used money he received from the military to start his first business.
After dabbling in a coffee store and a jazz club, Cole purchased the space that would become the Darcelle XV Showcase in 1967. Two years later, he had developed the “alter ego” named Darcelle and came out as gay, according to a profile on the club's website.
The Darcelle XV Showplace was listed in 2020 on the National Register of Historic Places, making it the first site in Oregon to be nominated specifically for its significance in LGBTQ+ history. In the venue's early days in the 1970s and 1980s, it was seen as taboo and protesters picketed outside, The Oregonian / OregonLive reported.
It provided a lifeline for many in the city's LGBTQ community, including Cole, he told the newspaper in a 2010 interview. Cole preferred female pronouns when performing, but told The Oregonian he preferred male pronouns off-stage.
“She touched the lives of so many, not only through her performances but also through her fearless community advocacy and charitable works,” said Todd Addams, the interim executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, speaking of Darcelle. “She was nothing short of an icon."
Writer Susan Stanley described the club a place of “warmth and affection” where performers were “glittering in sequins and satin and a shimmering froth of feathers,” in what’s credited as the first profile of Darcelle XV, published in Willamette Week in 1975.
When speaking of Darcelle, Cole, a gay man, referred to his persona in the third person using female pronouns. “I’m an entertainer with a capital E,” Cole told Stanley. “Darcelle is a character - like in a play - and I work very hard at her.”
Upcoming shows at the cabaret “will go on as scheduled per Darcelle’s wishes,” according to the Instagram post.