Remembering Darcelle XV, the world's oldest working drag performer

Drag performer, LGBTQ+ activist and staple of the Portland, Oregon community, Darcelle XV's legacy continues.

A photo of drag performer Darcelle XV sitting.
Image: via Facebook @DarcelleXVShowplace

On Thursday, March 23, Darcelle XV — whose off-stage name was Walter W. Cole — died aged 92. With a career as an entertainer spanning over 57 years, her legacy lives on.

In 2016, Darcelle was announced as the world record holder for the oldest working drag performer, but that’s not her only history-making achievement. The Portland nightclub that Darcelle opened in 1967 has hosted the longest-running drag show on the West Coast of the United States.

The club, Darcelle XV Showplace, announced the performer’s death on its social media and asked for privacy and patience as people process and grieve. Despite its headline performer and namesake passing, the Showplace said it will go on as scheduled “per Darcelle’s wishes”.


Born Walter Willard Cole on November 16, 1930, in Portland, Walter previously spoke about being bullied as a child, with classmates calling him a “four-eyed sissy boy.” He went on to serve in the US Armed Forces, was discharged after the Korean War and married his high school sweetheart whom he had two children with. 

Walter came out as gay in 1969, two years after purchasing a tavern in northwest Portland that would become Darcelle XV Showplace. Walter first performed in drag at 37 years old after buying the property and opening a bar. Soon, he created the Darcelle persona, the name paying tribute to the French actress and singer Denise Darcel.

With help from Walter’s life partner, Roxy Le Roy Neuhardt, Darcelle’s performances got the business to take off, and the bar was renamed the Darcelle XV Showplace in 1974. Roxy and Darcelle stayed together until the former’s passing in 2018.


Darcelle became a staple part of the Portland community and her LGBTQ+ activism was immense.

Through work as Darcelle, Cole raised money for LGBTQ+ and AIDS organisations and, in recognition of their work, received the Spirit of Portland Award in 2003. An example of Cole’s generosity is he would close the club on Christmas Eve and open back up to serve food for members of the community that had nowhere else to go.

“Darcelle is a Portland Icon who gave us more than great performances, Their legacy will live on through their philanthropy, legendary show venue and the countless lives they’ve impacted for good,” tweeted Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler after the announcement of Darcelle’s passing.


In 2011, Cole and Sharon Knorr published the memoir, Just Call Me Darcelle, which discusses Cole’s life from childhood to the present and what it’s like being Darcelle. 

Darcelle’s impact on the Portland community was showcased in a 2019 exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society called The Many Shades of Being Darcelle: 52 Years of Fashion. Along with the exhibit, a musical entitled, Darcelle: That’s No Lady, premiered. In 2020, Darcelle XV Showplace was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its contribution to LGBTQ+ history. 

A memorial for the icon is still in the planning stages.

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