Toronto’s drag community lost one of its most beloved icons this month. Candice Kelly, with her indomitable stage presence and physicality, was a tireless champion of social causes who embraced everyone in the broader queer community in her luscious bosom. Kelly died Friday, Oct 17, 2015, at the age of 58.
“She’d give you the shirt off her back — literally,” the legendary Michelle DuBarry says, choking back tears during Kelly’s memorial, Wednesday, Oct 28, at Woody’s.
Despite the balls-to-the-wall glamour that local A-list queens brought to the room, including DuBarry, Morgan James and Nikki Chin, there was a markedly sombre tone — a community shocked with grief, but determined to throw one final bash in the style to which Kelly was accustomed.
Nikki Chin says Kelly put a roof over her head at a particularly low point and helped her get her act together, a story which has been echoed by many who were close to her.
“Candice was, and will always be, such an amazing influence on the gay and drag communities,” Chin says. “She did everything she could humanly do for the community, such as charity work, a Star Search contest she created and hosted, a house where she would put the roof over anyone’s head who she knew was in a rut. Those are just naming a few of many things she would do in our community and others around North America. I was one of those people that she took in and helped get back into the real world.”
Kelly was one of the brightest jewels in The Imperial Court of Toronto (TICOT). Since her coronation in 1995, she worked relentlessly in her performances and community engagements to raise funds for social causes. The Toronto chapter of the organization was founded in 1987 and has raised over $1-million for queer charities.
TICOT’s reigning monarch Morgan James recalls the imprint Kelly left on the queer community.
“One of the things I remember most about Candice was her dedication to the community, whether it was through [People With AIDS], whether it was to TICOT, she always had a smile for everybody, she always had an open heart for everybody,” James says. “She always had open arms. She leaves a big hole in the community, and not just because she was a big girl or anything like that,” James quips. “But just because she had a big heart and everything she put into her entire existence.”
Chin recalls touring and her experiences on the road with Kelly.
“Travelling with Candice was such a delight and honour, except for having to stop the car every 30 minutes so she could pee,” Chin says.
“But in all seriousness, every time we went to a different town or different city, it seemed like she always had something to give to the host. For example, a little trinket, baked goods, a picture of the two of them that she found,” Chin recalls.
DuBarry, standing next to the stage with a shock of white hair and glistening dentures before the show got underway, was in a state of disbelief.
“I lost my neighbour, straight across the courtyard where I live. I saw her every day. I’ve known her since she first came to Toronto. She was the person you could go to and talk about anything. She gave wonderful advice to everyone. I just can’t believe she’s just not right across the courtyard,” DuBarry says.
(Donations in Candice Kelly’s memory can be made to The Imperial Court of Toronto
(Photo credits: Krys Cee Photography)