2016 has been a rough year. Everyone's list of deaths that hit particularly close to home will be slightly different; everyone has their own attachment to specific celebrities. David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Miss Cleo, Brian Bedford, Juan Gabriel, etc, etc. We grew up with them, somehow we just assumed they would always be around.
Perhaps that's what makes Chris Edwards' unexpected death - he was only 54 - so shocking. As long as I can remember, Edwards was performing somewhere. His face on a poster advertising a benefit (he raised thousands particularly for AIDS charities), a pageant (his list of titles rivals the House of Windsor), or an appearance at any and all of the bars in the Village and beyond. I have lost count of how many times I saw his timeless transformation from a sultry Whitney Houston or Diana Ross into a high-stepping unbelievably limber Michael Jackson. I can't believe I'll never get to marvel at it again.
I can't pretend that I knew Edwards well. The first time I saw him perform was when I was bartending at an early Miss Canada Continental. He rocked the house and then came to the bar. All aglow he accepted compliments, traded a drink ticket for a drink, and cocked his head to the side with a shy smile while sipping daintily through a straw. Except when he was laughing loudly and full force.
From then on I would often see Edwards on stage or wandering Church Street in boy drag, a loose sweatshirt and a baseball cap. Unfailingly polite, he always said hello and usually winked. I can't believe I won't bump into him again.
At one point I was invited to the taping of a series of documentary interviews featuring cross-dressers and drag queens. This was way before the days of trans activism and the audience was sparse. The interviewer had promised to ask hard-hitting questions and to get to the roots of the pain of the drag experience, to unearth the scandal. Chris Edwards was the interviewee and he was having none of it. He looked fabulous and parried each attempt at unveiling sorrow with a smile and a sunny anecdote. While it can't have been easy coming of age when he did - black, gay, a drag performer - Edwards made it all seem like it had been a wonderful experience. And I think that because he was so loved by his audiences and friends, it was a wonderful experience.
It is a sign of how loving someone is, of how loved they are, when social media explodes with sorrow at their passing. To read the salutes and reminisces is to realize how many people Edwards touched and to have one's heart broken just a little more. I can't believe that he isn't just going to always be around.