Tuesday, April 30, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #471] Kerr, a drag queen star in Las Vegas, dies

Russ texted me this morning to let me know that Kenny Kerr had died.  It might seem odd to mourn the death of a drag performer I'd met only tangentially a few times, but with her a little piece of my past dies as well.  When I first started going out in Vegas, Gipsy - that little "club", with a rainbow painted across the front and slot machines in the bar, on the Northwest corner of the intersection that served as Vegas's gay core - was everything to me.  It's where I met my friends, where I was out at least four nights a week, and where I finally started living the life I wanted.  And Gipsy wasn't separable from Kenny Kerr, who would often be there, sometimes performing, sometimes just there, but always a presence.

So hearing he died brings back all those nights - those many, many nights spent there with Russ, coercing Mike Odynski to have just one more - and all that grew out of it.  Suddenly this epochal period that normally seems so remote behind the years of life, in ever more distant cities since then, doesn't seem so far removed anymore.  And for just an instant - a fleeting instant - I feel like a Vegas boy again.  Only this time grateful rather than resentful; for all that Vegas lacked that I needed and fled to find, it's still where the foundations of my life were laid.  But it's just that little bit less fabulous now.

Viva Las Vegas,

Updated  April 29, 2013 - 2:01am

Kerr, a drag queen star in Las Vegas, dies

Kenny Kerr, in an undated photo, performs at the Plaza. Kerr, best known for his female impersonations, died Sunday. He was 60.

Kenny Kerr, the bad girl that Las Vegas fell hard for in the '70s, died Sunday. He was 60.
The star of "Boy-lesque" was the Strip's first must-see female impersonator, pulling a locals-heavy audience into a tiny casino called the Silver Slipper for 11 years with his deadpan stare, cutthroat wit and killer gowns.
"It's now to the point where there are three things you have to see: Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and 'Boy-lesque,'" Kerr said in 1988, when the show wrapped its long era at the Silver Slipper in anticipation of the casino's eventual closure and demolition.
Kerr's impressions of Cher and Barbra Streisand were matched by his comedic skills as the show's saucy host.
Drag was still somewhat taboo when Kerr came to town in 1977, but by then, he had already been impersonating Streisand for years.
Growing up in Blue Anchor, N.J., he was 16 when a couple who saw him shopping at a mall noted his resemblance to Streisand. They soon had him riding the bus into Philadelphia to perform at night while he was still attending high school.
"These people had a show of the sort I do now and asked me if I wanted to work in it," he recalled in 1982. They talked a lot of money. ... Most of my contemporaries had jobs for minimum wage or less."
Going out on his own a few years later, Kerr and his original cast showcased their act for free at the Sahara and caught the attention of Herb Kaufman, the owner of Wonder World discount stores.
The Slipper show quickly became a low-cost novelty for locals to take out-of-town visitors. But it arrived fresh on the heels of Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade, and for years Kerr said the question "Are you gay?" was one he had to dance around.
"It's a question I can't win by answering," he said in 1982. "If I said I am gay, there are an awful lot of narrow-minded people out there. And If I said I'm heterosexual, a lot of people wouldn't believe me."
Kerr kept working after the Silver Slipper era, with long runs at the Sahara and Plaza followed by smaller casinos and gradually diminishing returns, as the rival "La Cage" revue proved fierce competition and the shock value faded over the years.
After spending much of the 2000s in Palm Springs, Kerr returned to Las Vegas and forged on in clubs and the Onyx Theatre as recently as last year, after the death of his longtime partner and a serious illness.
"One thing about troubles is you quickly learn who your good friends really are," he told the Review-Journal last year. "People are always trying to stab you in the back. But lately I've been surrounded by so much love. I wasn't aware of all the love that's out there. I now appreciate the kindness that comes my way."


Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com
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1 comment:

nosaj128 said...

What! Kenny was the sweetest person in the professional drag industry. I remember one evening after a show at the Sahara, Kenny went out of his way to drive me home after he saw my car wasn't starting. Knowing that he was a n extremely busy person with the shows and his son, I didn't dare bother or ask for a favor. But he came to me and in his exact words "get in the car bitch", lol.

Shaun, again you are the deliverer of bad news/death. I had no idea he passed.