Walter Cole, better known as the famous drag queen Darcelle XV in Portland, passed Away At age 92.
The News was first announced on the Facebook page for his nightclub, Darcelle XV Showplace, on Thursday evening, March 23, 2023.
Cole entertained tourists and bachelorette parties for over 50 years at his Old Town nightclub. He told dirty jokes while wearing elaborate makeup and beaded gowns and was also the host of a parade of drag queens and dancers.
As Darcelle, Cole became an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the city. Over the years, she helped many charities, marched in many Rose Festival and Pride parades, and was given the Spirit of Portland Award by the city’s mayor.
In 2016, Guinness World Records said that Cole was the oldest drag queen performer in the world.
A Look into Darcelle XV’s Childhood and Family
Walter Willard Cole was born on November 16, 1930, and he grew up in Northwest Portland in the blue-collar Linnton neighborhood near the St. Johns Bridge.
In his one-person show “Just Call Me Darcelle,” based on his 2010 memoir of the same name, Cole talked about himself as a shy, quiet boy trying to deal with the demise of his mother while living with an aggressive father. After his mother died, his aunt Lil moved in and became both his mother and father.
He said that because he was an only child, other kids made fun of him and called him “sissyboy.”
Cole married Jeannette Rosini, his high school sweetheart, in 1951. In the early 1950s, he served in the Army in Italy. After that, he moved to the Centennial neighborhood in Southeast Portland, where he had a son, Walter Jr., and a daughter, Maridee.
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Walter Cole: The Colorful Career of Darcelle XV
Cole worked at a Fred Meyer store for a while and eventually became the store manager. Cole remembered this time as an attempt at a normal, all-American way of life, at least on the surface.
Cole opened Caffe Espresso, a small coffee shop downtown near Portland State University, with money he had saved.
The café had the first espresso machine in the city and was popular with beatniks. It had an art gallery and live music and spoken word performances, so Cole learned how to run a business and deal with performers who could be moody at times.
Cole bought the run-down Demas Tavern on Northwest Third Avenue in Old Town in 1967. He had no idea that it would become a business that would last for more than 50 years.
In 2017, he said, “I didn’t have a plan for the next two days.” “I came here, opened the door, and started crying. I asked myself, “What have I done?” That didn’t last long, though.”
Cole had already run a few other businesses by this time, including a jazz club, which gave him a good idea of how bars and nightlife work. But the rough Demas Tavern could be hard to deal with.
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