Dressed in everything from traditional mourning attire to ballgowns and platform stilettos, about 200 people gathered on Nov. 5, outside Darcelle XV’s Showplace to pay their respects to Roxy LeRoy Neuhardt, professional and romantic partner of Darcelle XV, the world’s oldest drag queen. Neuhardt passed away on Oct. 21 at the age of 82.
When the venue reached capacity, people waited in line for their chance to enter the landmark nightclub to hug Darcelle, a.k.a. Walter Cole, and remember Neuhardt’s life and legacy. An ornate blue and silver-gold urn took centerstage, surrounded by photos of Neuhardt and Cole throughout their lives, along with nine floral arrangements and a buffet of food and Voodoo Doughnuts, which also brought two large frosted portraits of Neuhardt and Cole in and out of drag.
When Cole purchased Demas Tavern in 1967, Neuhardt suggested he turn the bar into a female impersonation performance bar, according to a eulogy written by drag queen Sister Paula Nielsen and shared by Cole on Facebook. Neuhardt also provided the name Darcelle, drawing inspiration for her name from ’50s actress Denise Darcel.
Before Darcelle’s opened, the Oregon Liquor Control Commision banned tavern performances using more than one musical instrument.
The Oregon Historical Society documents how the OLCC used discriminatory legislation practices, at the suggestion of City Council, to deny licenses from “known traverns with heavy homosexual patronage.”
Darcelle’s hosted drag as a way to skirt such laws, considering drag a form of pantomime that didn’t qualify as true dance. According to Oregon Encyclopedia, the OLCC eventually ticketed Neuhardt for dancing in drag in 1973, and according to Cole, the violated law was repealed three days later.
Many of Darcelle’s current castmates like Poison Waters, Bolivia Carmichaels, Alexis Campbell Starr and Summer Lynne Seasons shared fond memories of Roxy.
KATU’s Helen Raptis and former Portland mayor Tom Potter also spoke about Neuhardt’s kind and sweet nature. Potter noted Darcelle’s is second only to Voodoo Doughnuts for new Portlanders and tourists’ first destinations.
“Has there ever been a Darcelle’s without Roxy?” Raptis asked, fighting tears, “No, I don’t think so.”
Neuhardt and Cole are featured in a mural commissioned by Wells Fargo on display at Prism Health Center on SE Belmont, which debuted on Oct. 3 with Commissioner Nick Fish in attendance. On Sunday, Nov. 12, Darcelle XV will reappear onstage for her 87th birthday.
NOTE: Because “he/his” was the pronoun most frequently used by Neuhardt’s family and friends, Portland State Vanguard opted to use these pronouns as well.