Late last month, members of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community woke to the news of the passing of an icon, Michelle Ross. Michelle began her career as a drag entertainer back in the 1970’s, and continued performing and entertaining throughout her entire life.

How does one put into words the legacy of Michelle Ross, one who was always so much more than the lyrics of any song she performed? A few words come to mind at the thought of Michelle: talented, graceful, elegant, strong, modest, humble, compassionate, kind, funny, irreverent, shy, demure, mysterious, private, iconic, legendary, and of course, Love. Michelle was about love.

In an interview for the 2002 documentary, “Divas: Love Me Forever”, Michelle, referring to her “out-of-drag” self as “Michael” (not her real name), stated that her first experience of a drag show was at The Manatee in 1974. It is rumoured that she was between 15 and 17 years old at that time; however, as a lady never reveals her true age,

neither did Michelle. Not long after that experience, she began her drag career. And what a career it became.

If somebody had told me in ‘74 that I would live in Switzerland, Japan, Puerto Rico, Paris, and London, I would never believe it, and it’s all because of this,” she was quoted. Michelle’s talent took her around the world, and she was equally professional whether her dressing room was a luxurious suite or a bathroom stall. She did the work with pride, grace and elegance, wearing fabulous gowns she made, sometimes something she’d just decided to “whip up” that afternoon. She had worked for many years doing alterations for a well-known fashion retailer, and her skill was unquestionable.

But, it was not only the wardrobe, makeup, professionalism, or impeccable lip-synching that allowed Michelle to grab and hold the attention of every member of an audience; the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Michelle’s heart and personality shone through her impersonations, beyond the artful mask that one might paint over a face.

And, beyond all the talent and glamour, Michelle was shy, humble, and insecure. The hair, makeup, and gowns combined to create a public personae that exuded the confidence which “Earl” lacked. Those who knew both Michelle and Earl could tell you that, though the heart and humour were shared characteristics, Earl was a shy, reserved, and insecure man entirely uncomfortable with the attention and adoration in which Michelle basked.  As a result, Michelle and Earl cherished and understood the value of the small circle of close, true friends that were allowed into an otherwise private and solitary life.

Michelle Ross was an iconic figure in the art of drag for over four decades. She entertained, mentored, and loved. Most importantly, she loved.

Remember Michelle Ross and, “Say love”.

Family and close friends are preparing a virtual celebration of life on Sunday April 11, 2021, from 7PM to 9PM. Hosted by Devine Darlin and Jada Hudson, with DJs Jay, Craig Dominic, and Blackcat, along with special performances. Presented by Pride Toronto. Watch on Twitch TV

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