Lulu LaRude’s final post on www.lulularude.com came on January 30. The tone, as usual, was optimistic. But the news was not good.
“HI everyone. Alot has happened in the last few days that i find is now important to those that surround me, especially amongst my friends and family. I was informed a few days ago that I have approx 2 months to live.”
Just over a week later, LaRude, AKA Chuck McDuff Gillis, passed away after a six-month battle with cancer. He was 43.
Performing as LaRude, Gillis hosted the weekly Five Minutes of Fame show at Reflections Cabaret, and had been performing in drag for over 25 years. Stephen Filek, the manager of Reflections, says that LaRude was always his first choice to host events at the bar.
“We considered him a friend,” he says. “I knew Chuck for 12 to 14 years. He was always outgoing, fun, witty, humourous—he always knew how to push people’s buttons in the right way, to entertain them.”
Filek says Gillis was a consummate performer.
“He had perfect lip-sync abilities, perfect entertainment abilities, he was a makeup artist, so his makeup was always flawless. He could do anything—give him a hot glue gun, and he’d have an outfit in 10 minutes.”
A funeral for Gillis was held on Tuesday, February 13, with a reception at Reflections following the service. Filek says the turnout was overwhelming.
“The funeral home was packed. His entire family was able to come down , and see a bit more of the drag side of Chuck’s life,” he says. “I think they were aware of it, but they weren’t really aware of how much impact Chuck had had on a community. They were actually quite overwhelmed and joyful about it.”
Billy McDuff Gillis was also at the service. He had been Chuck’s partner for just over a year, and shared his last name. Despite the circumstances, and the relatively short amount of time that Chuck had to come to terms with his illness, Billy says he faced it with a remarkable amount of courage.
“It was less than six months between the diagnosis and when he passed away, but throughout the entire six month period, I never saw him depressed,” says Billy. “Sure, there were sad times, because, well, we had just met each other; the love of the each other’s lives. I remember Chuck when he first told me—after he had seen his family doctor for the first time and it all started, with the CAT scan and diagnosis—I remember him saying how unfair it all was.
“But he never once felt sorry for himself.”
Billy figures that Lulu’s last performance would have been during the Five Minutes of Fame at Reflections on January 4. Remarkably, Billy says that Lulu’s energetic stage show was barely affected, even as the disease progressed.
“They were affected in the sense that Chuck would do the show and then leave immediately after show was over—when he was feeling better, Chuck would stick around, have a few drinks and mix with the crowd. But on stage, I don’t think there was a difference. I remember thinking it was incredible; there were some days when he was in excruciating pain, or on a lot of morphine. But, I certainly didn’t notice a difference.”
Jay Wells Salon at 5187 Sackville is displaying items from Lulu’s long career—awards, pictures, outfits and other Lulu-related mementos. They will remain on display until at least the end of Friday, February 16.
Reflections will also be hosting a fundraiser drag show on Sunday, beginning at 10pm. Cover charge is $8, and proceeds will go to helping support the Gillis family and friends with funeral costs.
As for Five Minutes of Fame, Lulu’s signature show, Billy says the one of Gillis’s good friends, Tim Humphry, will likely take over as host under his stage name, Eureeka Love—“It’s what Chuck would have wanted,” he says.
Filek says it will be a big job for whomever takes over for Lulu.
“Some people might try, but it’s a difficult thing to do,” he says. He pauses, then laughs. “Size fourteens are tough shoes to fill!”