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REMEMBERING A CANADIAN DRAG LEGEND

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RIP Chris Edwards: December 24, 1961–September 6, 2016
Interviews by Steven Bereznai

The world lost a queen of queens in September, when drag royalty Chris Edwards passed away in hospital. The 54-year-old collapsed in his dressing room at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, following a performance as Tina Turner. He died in hospital 11 days later. Chris was a trailblazer, founding the Miss Gay Toronto and Miss Gay Universe pageants, upending pronouns (friends say he lived as a boy, but many—especially fellow queens—still refer to him as she), and all the while helping many people change their lives along the way. IN Magazine spoke with some of the people closest with Chris, including friends, co-workers and admirers. They shared their favourite memories of this Princess Diana of drag queens.

“I have known Chris for over 25 years, and consider him my friend. He was one of the most beautiful entertainers, a major talent and an important mentor and friend to many. He had countless titles, accomplishments and show-stopping performances, but in the drag world of bitchy queens and RuPaul nastiness, Chris Edwards was kind. That is my favourite memory of him.”
–Dean Odorico, manager, Woody’s/Sailors

“We went on a trip to Bermuda to do a show, and then there’s all our trips to the Continental [Pageant] in Chicago. But, really, one of the best things was sitting around watching videos with a potluck supper with a group of queens.” What would you watch? “Anything Continental.”
–Amanda Roberts, drag sensation

“Being [Chris’s drag] daughter, I have lots of memories. My favourite would have to be when she first put me in drag. This is around 1989. I had just finished choreographing ‘Rhythm Nation’ for another queen, and Chris got it in her head that I’d be so pretty in drag…. ‘Let me do you in drag one time,’ she said. I looked decent, and the next thing I know she’s having her first Miss Gay Toronto Pageant…. [Chris] coaxed me into the pageant. I had no evening gown, no swimsuit…. She said: ‘I have everything….’ It’s also how I discovered I was trans. I owe her my life. If Chris had not put me in drag 30 years ago, the Jeanette Dupree you see now would not exist. When I call her momma, it’s not fluff. She was my parent. Our community is suffering a really great loss.”
–Jeannette Dupree, drag daughter

“Working at Woody’s for three years in the early 2000s, I saw a lot of drag shows. A lot…. The one who most consistently dazzled the patrons and inspired other queens was Chris Edwards. She loved holding court in that place, but never did so in some high-hat way. Meanwhile, I’d be working the door with her man John, who was the very definition of ‘gruff but lovable,’ and it was always clear how they adored one another. She never seemed, at least to me, to glow as brightly as she did before his death, but I was happy to help her out one last time at Glad Day Bookshop. She’d lost her old copy of the astrology romance guide Gay Love Signs and came in a couple of years ago looking for a new one. ‘I swear, it is SO TRUE,’ she insisted, and was sad when I told her that this 1990 book was out of print. She had an epic pout. [When] someone donated a worn copy of the book, I quickly rang her up. Even in her baseball cap and jeans, she always looked glamorous, and when I handed her the book (‘For FREE?’ she yelled), I saw a bit of that glow come my way.”
–Scott Dagostino, Glad Day Bookstore

“I really got to know Chris during our tours as part of Lads ’N Lashes with Robin Loren. During those long car trips, I received a great education from her. She taught me about the legends in the community: the queens before who paved the way, allowing the new generation the freedoms it has today. I think that is something most people will remember about Chris. She was an educator and helped to introduce so many of today’s performers to the stage through her shows and Miss Gay Toronto and Miss Gay Universe pageants. She always encouraged, and never discouraged. I remember one time hearing about her showing up to Crews with a garbage bag of costumes she had cleared out of her closet and just saying to some of the new girls, ‘Have at it!’ She always wanted to ensure people were enjoying themselves, whether they were in the audience or working on the stage.”
–Heroine Marks (a.k.a. Matteo Cassano), entertainment manager, Crews & Tangos

“About 10 years ago, during Pride Week, I was sitting across from Timothy’s on Church Street talking with Chris, and a van passed by. The guys inside were yelling ‘fag’ and throwing eggs. Chris caught an egg in mid-air and chased after them in full drag, and yelled ‘How dare you!’ and smashed the egg on their windshield. They drove off terrified. To me that was Chris. He might be wearing a dress and a wig, but he was a mother with a cub and you were not going to attack his family or his village.”
–Walt Chaisson, close friend

“After Pride one year, Chris said, ‘I don’t want to see another gay person for at least a month’ and [someone] replied, ‘Better not look in the mirror.’ And every time he received his paycheque he would say, ‘and the best black award goes to…’ opens envelope, ‘…Chris Edwards.’ Then he would let out a huge laugh.”
–Chris’s co-workers at the Yonge and College Winners

“Chris said that when he went out he felt most people wanted to see him in drag, but with us when he came over he just came over as himself. In drag he could say or do anything. He had that acid tongue that was entertaining and could put people in their place. Out of drag, he was more soft-spoken, but still fun. He embodied the belief that you take care of everyone, which not everyone would see as he dry-humped a stud on stage. And he loved the Mandarin, so that’s where we’re going today, to celebrate Chris.”
–Jack Zulauf, close friend

STEVEN BEREZNAI is a Toronto author and journalist. His newest novel is I Want Superpowers. He can be reached online at stevenbereznai.com.

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