Portland icon and female impersonator Darcelle has died

By OPB staff (OPB)
March 24, 2023 2:42 a.m.

The legendary drag queen was a champion of LGBTQ rights and a pioneering entertainer in Oregon.

Darcelle performing, early 1970s

Darcelle performing, early 1970s

Courtesy Kimberlee Van Patten


Portland’s most iconic drag queen, Darcelle, has died of natural causes at the age of 92.

“We ask for privacy and patience as everyone processes and grieves in their own way and at their own pace. Details of a public memorial will be announced as soon as they are confirmed. All shows at Darcelle XV 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,” staff of Darcelle XV Showplace, the business she founded more than half a century ago, confirmed on social media Thursday.

Related: Darcelle XV: Long before the Stonewall Riots that changed the gay rights movement, Portland had a vibrant drag queen community.

Also known as Walter W. Cole Sr., Darcelle was the longest-performing female impersonator in the United States. She was also a longtime Old Town Portland business owner whose advocacy for gay rights began at a time when so-called homosexual acts were illegal and gays and lesbians faced legalized discrimination. As the push for LGBTQ rights gained steam, Darcelle became an “ambassador” to the straight community, and for decades she was known for her charitable work.

Darcelle performs, June 5, 2022 in Portland. Darcelle, also known as Walter W. Cole Sr., died of natural causes at the age of 92.

Darcelle performs, June 5, 2022 in Portland. Darcelle, also known as Walter W. Cole Sr., died of natural causes at the age of 92.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Last fall, she donned her bold blond wig and a glitter-covered gown to revive the La Femme Magnifique pageant, which had been put on hiatus for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: As drag queens prepare to ring in 2023, Portland’s Darcelle reflects on decades of artistry

Until the pandemic, Darcelle XV Showplace had had never closed its doors before, she told OPB last year.

“We had some tough times. ... But you know what was so wonderful? My staff stayed with me, and when we reopened, they were all there. I love them.”

Over a period of more than a year, “Oregon Experience” crews documented Darcelle at a variety of events, both public and private. They captured behind-the-scenes moments, and gathered hundreds of images and film clips spanning decades. Watch the resulting insiders’ look at the legendary Portlander:


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Darcelle XV

Darcelle XV is the West Coast’s oldest performing female impersonator, and operates what is likely the nation’s longest running drag revue.