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Remembering Las Vegas Pioneer Kenny Kerr

Even back in 2009, when columnist and Gay Vegas book author Steve Friess wrote an item about Kenny Kerr, memories were already fading of the legendary Strip performer’s female impersonator legacy. Kerr died over the weekend at age 60.

From Friess’ December 2009 Las Vegas Weekly article:

Not even my own partner, who has been in Vegas for almost a decade, was certain what Kenny does. “He was a drag queen, right?” Miles asked.

Uh, yeah. But not in the low-rent, cheesy form that most people think of when bandying about that phrase. Kenny Kerr is — not was, is — the best performing drag queen ever to grace a stage in Las Vegas or anywhere else. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the worst businessmen. Which he cops to.

It’s one of the wonderful things about the Internet. When someone passes, a little bit of extra Web research can quickly lead a reader past the by-rote obituary articles to a piece like Friess’s. The author retraces the full history of Kerr’s act, the performer’s raw singing talent and Strip heyday:

Kerr became the toast of Vegas. Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick and Lola Falana came often. He opened for Joan Rivers at Caesars. He and Siegfried spent holidays at Siegfried’s Puerto Rico spread. Sammy Davis Jr. was a “good friend,” Kerr says.

(Frank Sinatra, however, wasn’t. Kerr says Sinatra, who for a spell performed after a drag act at a downtown hotel, would wait for the drag performers to leave the building before he’d enter. “He was an extremely homophobic man,” says Kerr.)

Friess also touches on Kerr’s celebrated rivalry with Frank Marino, a much more PR-savvy successor. In the comments to the Las Vegas Weekly article, Friess – now a senior writer with Politico – chimed in today with, “I’ve never been so sad to have been so right.” RIP.

[Image courtesy: Kerr family]

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