The local performance community has been worried about Kenny Kerr.
Anyone who knows Vegas knows that the 59-year-old drag queen made female impersonation mainstream when he opened in “Boylesque” in 1977. He’s remained a staple of local entertainment.
But these are tough times. His life partner, Bill, died earlier this year, and Kerr was hospitalized around the same time with a life-threatening illness. Miraculously, he was back in the swing of things in September with a new monthly act at the Onyx (it plays tonight and Saturday at 10 p.m.; onyxtheatre.com).
It’s a chummy show, perhaps best when Kerr provides close-up views of show biz back in the old days. You feel as if you’re happily chatting with a friend in his living room. And while there’s plenty of humor, his show makes references to the performer’s recent physical and emotional upheavals. But why isn’t Kerr spending his time relaxing by the pool?
“I don’t know what I’d do without work,” Kerr told me. “When I put on my makeup and go onstage, I’m a different person. Everything is (beautiful).”
As you’d expect, Kerr is a big believer in positive thinking.
“It’s amazing how much your mind controls (your physical situation),” he says. “You can’t allow yourself to give in to things.”
Still, Kerr’s sense of humor came with an equal dose of tears during our talk. He recalled Bill’s final days when he often said that he wanted very much to live.
“In the end, I just held his hand and told him he had to just accept things and be strong,” Kerr says. “There was nothing to be done.”
Kerr’s battle between acceptance and anger is obvious. He knows that. But he feels communications with audiences and relations with friends are helping him cope.
“One thing about troubles is you quickly learn who your good friends really are,” he says. “You have so much doubt in your life. You keep waiting for (the next problem) to fall. 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.”
Kerr is eager to quash the rumors that he has AIDS. He said he’s still fighting the aftereffects of pneumonia.
“I get very tired sometimes, but I always feel better once I hit the stage. I called Joan Rivers the day she found out her husband (Edgar Rosenberg) committed suicide (Rivers and Kerr are longtime friends), and she said, ‘I wish I had somewhere to go to work tonight.’ I never forgot that.”
Kerr said that while gigs are helping him get through tough times, it’s not the only reason he stays busy.
“I’m not ready to not perform,” he says. “It’s in my blood. I’m writing a book, and I’m getting something together now that’s never been done before.”
Any hints as to what?
I tried, but no.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at
email@example.com. You can write him
c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70,
Las Vegas, NV 89125.