Tragic Details About 17 RuPaul's Drag Race Queens

The following article includes mention of addiction issues and suicide.

Hundreds of queens have sashayed onto the international runways of "RuPaul's Drag Race," and many of them have shared their innermost secrets and stories. A number of these stories have detailed dark, and often tragic, memories that have ultimately shaped their paths through life. Whether its over a cocktail in the Werk Room or on the main stage in front of the judges' panels, queens have shown their vulnerability in spades when it comes to digging deeper into their psyche and what makes them unique.

"You have to let those moments live, you have to let them breathe," explained Kenneth Leslie — the executive producer of the "RPDR" behind-the-scenes after show, "Untucked" — to TheWrap. "That's what to me 'Untucked' is about. It's about hearing these human beings and how their lives have gotten them to where they are now."

There have been hundreds of stories of overcoming addictions, reuniting or removing themselves from loved ones, and in some sad instances, experiencing death in their families. Some queens have also tragically lost their lives themselves. But overall, these instances help solidify not only the importance of "RuPaul's Drag Race," but also the personalities that have built its reputation into that of a heartfelt powerhouse. "There's still a limited amount of LGBTQ+ programming," "Untucked" executive producer Tom Campbell told TheWrap. "A bunch of queens sitting around talking about life is a bit of a miracle."

Chi Chi DeVayne died at 34

In August 2020, "RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 8 and "All Stars" Season 3 queen Chi Chi DeVayne was pronounced dead at the age of 34. The performer — whose given name was Zavion Davenport — died due to suspected kidney failure, which they had been hospitalized for along with pneumonia the month prior. DeVayne shared a video message (via Independent) with fans from their hospital bed, saying, "Keep me in your prayers. I'll be back soon." Shortly after the tragic death, DeVayne's family shared an official announcement on Instagram, saying, "His final words to his family and friends, 'Never give up!'"

DeVayne was known for their impressive dance skills, impassioned performances, and lovable nature on both seasons they competed on. "I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of Chi Chi DeVayne," host RuPaul Charles lamented to Entertainment Weekly. "I am so grateful that we got to experience her kind and beautiful soul. She will be dearly missed, but never forgotten. May her generous and loving spirit shine down on us all."

Her co-stars and fellow queens shared their sorrows on social media upon her death, including fellow Season 8 contestant, Dax ExclamationPoint. "Rest in Power Chichi Devayne," ExclamationPoint posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. "My deepest sympathies and condolences go out to her family and anyone who is hurting right now. She was always sweet, considerate, real and to say the absolute least TALENTED. Say it again: TALENT. The world lost someone genuinely amazing today."

Several queens publicly disclosed their HIV status

"RuPaul's Drag Race" has become a safe space for both stars and fans to reveal their innermost truths with the world and with themselves. The first example of this came in Season 1 when contestant — and later "All Stars" Season 5 competitor — Ongina revealed her status with HIV. After winning a challenge based on advocating for people with HIV/AIDS, Ongina broke down in tears. "I've been always so afraid to say it ... I've been living with HIV for the last two years of my life," she cried during the episode (via Variety).

With her emotional statement, Ongina became the first queen to disclose her HIV positive status on the show, creating a safe space for future contestants to share their statuses. "It changed my life drastically because it was a weight lifted off my shoulders to be able to finally say it out loud and own it for myself," Ongina shared with TheBody in 2017. "It also became an inspiration for others to live out loud about being HIV positive. I'm happy to have helped people come to terms, like I did, with their status."

Other queens have opened up about their status on the show, including Season 6 and "All Stars" Season 5 contestant Trinity K. Bonet, as well as "RuPaul's Drag Race UK" Season 3's Charity Kase. Both are activists for the HIV positive community worldwide. "We need to see a wide variety of positive people living happy, healthy lives and thriving, [including] straight people and women," Kase shared on Instagram.

Alyssa Edwards expressed deep sorrow over losing her mother

Fan favorite Alyssa Edwards has appeared as both a contestant and a coach on "RuPaul's Drag Race," but it was during her time as a contestant on "All Stars" Season 2 that fans got to see a more vulnerable side of the Texas-born queen. During a sibling makeover challenge, Edwards — given name, Justin Johnson — and her real-life sister, Tabatha, broke down over the one-year anniversary of the loss of their mother, Sherrie, who died in 2014. Speaking to show host RuPaul, Edwards recalled of her mother: "She had a personality that ... lit up a room. My mom danced, I got that from her. She felt like everything I touched was gold ... I had one person that believed in me. She protected me from the cruelty of the world."

Edwards has spoken highly of her mother, always crediting her with being her "guardian angel" and the "wind beneath [his] wings." The dance coach continues to include stories of her mother in many of her interviews, including on her online series "Alyssa's Secret." "If my mother could see me now, oh, she can see me because she's in heaven watching down on me," Edwards told Good Morning America in 2020. "She would say, 'Everything you dreamed, you made reality.'"

Tamisha Iman was treated for colon cancer before RuPaul's Drag Race

Atlanta drag performer Tamisha Iman had a storied reputation before appearing on Season 13 of "RuPaul's Drag Race" ("I raise the bar as an entertainer," she once told The Houston Chronicle). During her time on the show, the pageant queen revealed a cancer diagnosis prevented her initial sashay onto the small screen, as she was originally cast on the previous season.

"I could kick and split, but the radiation was so harsh on my muscles that a split was no longer possible," Iman explained to Entertainment Weekly. "I had an open portion of my body that I had no control over on my stomach ... I was always cautious about that. It wasn't the dancing ability; it was making sure I didn't have an accident or injure myself."

When she eventually starred in Season 13, Iman's health still wasn't completely up to her full ability, which was speculated to be part of the reason that the talented queen was the third eliminated of the season. But that didn't stop her from pursuing her dream. "When you're presented with a life-and-death situation — because the cancer situation got to a point where it was so bad that I almost lost my life — and you get a moment in your life where your whole existence will be recognized, it's not about validation, but you don't want it to be in vain," she shared with Entertainment Weekly. "You want the world to see what you put into this craft."

Roxxxy Andrews' devastating childhood story

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5 contestant (and one-third of the infamous Rolaskatox) Roxxxy Andrews dropped two bombshells in one episode. On the same night that she showcased the now-iconic wig reveal in an epic lip sync showdown against Alyssa Edwards, Andrews made a tearful confession that unveiled a dark family secret. "My mother left my sister and myself at a bus stop when I was three and I remember it like it was yesterday," she shared (via Variety) with the judges and fellow contestants before breaking into hysterical tears. "I come off as this strong character. I try to stay so strong."

The vulnerable moment hit home for those in front of and behind the camera, remaining an notable scene from the franchise. "These people we put on the show have been through hell and high water," host RuPaul once told Buzzfeed News. "When Roxxy Andrews revealed she was left at a bus stop you think, 'What? What are you saying?' Every season so many things happen that we have no way of planning it."

When Andrews later appeared on "All Stars" Season 2, RuPaul surprised her by bringing out her grandmother – who ultimately cared for Andrews since the age of three — for one of their final challenges. "This lady right here is the only mother I've ever known and the best mother this little boy could ever ask for," Andrews shared of her grandma on Instagram.

Sahara Davenport died from heart failure

Season 2 standout Sahara Davenport — whose given name was Antoine Ashley — tragically died due to heart failure in October 2012. "Shocked & heartbroken," host RuPaul posted to X at the time. "Never occurred to me that we'd ever lose one of my girls. I see them as immortal." 

Davenport's then-partner, Season 3 and "All Stars" Seasons 1 and 4 competitor Manila Luzon, also released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter regarding Davenport's untimely departure at the age of 27. "To me, he will always be my best friend, my hero, my Diva, and I have always considered myself more than lucky to have him be forever a part of my life. Thank you, hon, for bringing so much beauty to all of us. Your legacy lives on in me and all of us you've touched."

Davenport impressed the judges on "RuPaul's Drag Race" before being eliminated in the sixth week, but she continued to make waves before her death by releasing singles, like "Go Off." The song charted at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot Dance Clubs list in May 2012. "She was just an amazing performer," Luzon shared with ET in 2019. "She was super funny, really quick on the mic and it was always fun for me to watch her perform even before 'Drag Race' ... I was so proud of her and when she passed it was really hard because as a drag queen you think you're invincible."

Cherry Valentine took their own life

After appearing on "RuPaul's Drag Race UK" Season 2, Cherry Valentine — whose given name was George Ward – tragically died by suicide in September 2022. "This will come as a profound shock to most people & we understand there is no easy way for this to be announced," Valentine's family shared in an Instagram statement. "As his family, we are still processing his death and our lives will never be the same." Details on the cause of death were not revealed until February 2023 when officials confirmed that Valentine died by suicide. As reported by the BBC, an inquest determined that Valentine, who was also a mental health nurse, "had been struggling with his rise to fame" since appearing on the show.

Many fellow "RPDR UK" queens shared their condolences on social media, including Season 2 contestant Bimini Bon Boulash, who posted to X: "At a loss for words. One of those souls so pure, so raw, so real. I'm incredibly lucky to have known George and witnessed their infectious spirit. Their patience and kindness was their superpower. They saw you for you and not many people have that empathetic trait." Other queens, including fellow contestant Tayce, staged tribute performances to their fallen friend. 

"I never thought that I would be [on the show]," Valentine once said on the program (via People). "To be sitting here right now, I feel really proud. Really proud. The world is now my stage, and I'm going to use it. That's exciting, it gives me shivers."

Some queens' families didn't accept them

Despite the abundance of love that "RuPaul's Drag Race" queens receive both on and off the runway, some contestants have been candid about the lack of acceptance they had received from their families. On Season 8, finalist Kim Chi shared with host RuPaul that his mother did not know about his drag career at the time. Chi eventually shared that his mother did learn of his true career thanks to her tracking down where his funds came from. 

"After the show aired, I knew my mom was struggling financially, so I sent her some money," Chi told the "Feeling Asian" podcast in 2022. "And then she calls me, and the first thing she asks is, 'How much money do you make doing this?' And then I told her, and she was like 'Keep living your dream. I fully support you.'"

Other contestants — like Season 15 runner-up Anetra — have also experienced tough situations with their more traditionally-minded families. The queen opened up during a Season 15 episode that her mother had discovered her drag clothes in the closet and first assured Anetra that she should be safe in her own skin. One week later, her mother decided to kick her out of the house, leaving Anetra estranged from her mother and siblings for years. However, the queen did reveal one positive from the situation was reuniting with her biological father.

Latrice Royale served time in prison

O.G. "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant Latrice Royale is known by many for being "large and in charge, chunky yet funky." But during an episode of "All Stars" Season 4, Royale revealed details of a darker side of her past life outside of drag; Royale spent 18 months in prison for drug possession charges. There was even a documentary, called "Gays in Prison," that showcased the injustices against Royale and other LGBT inmates.

To make matters worse, her mother passed away while she served time. Royale recalled that period of her life in an emotional moment during the "Best Judy" challenge, where the contestants' best friends (a.k.a. Judys) were brought in for a makeover challenge. Royale's friend Tim recounted (via Entertainment Weekly) how he helped Royale during her incarceration by making new outfits after her storage unit was unknowingly sold. "We just cut out outfits and sat there and sewed all day. And when he left, he had six outfits so that he could get out and start working right away."

An emotional RuPaul was clearly moved, as were audiences everywhere. "This touches my heart because I've had similar situations in my life when I was down-and-out, and my friends ... held me up," RuPaul responded, his voice cracking as he continued. "You need those friends; That's why it's so important that you're here for this Judy challenge because the best Judys we collect in this lifetime and need at those times when we don't have anybody else are so special."

Several queens were forced into conversion therapy

Season 10 contestant Dusty Ray Bottoms and Season 11 and "All Stars" Season 5 queen Scarlet Envy have each revealed their experiences with conversion therapy in their youth. Bottoms — whose given name is Dustin Rayburn — was featured in the documentary "Conversion," which covered several survivors' stories. "I didn't even know that [what I went through] was called conversion therapy to begin with," Bottoms shared with Out. "It wasn't until I shared my story on 'RuPaul's Drag Race' that I started getting 'me too' messages ... That was literally the first time that I had another person saying, 'I did that. I see you. I understand what you've gone through.' And it was such a huge full-circle moment for me."

Envy has also shared details about her two-year experience with conversion therapy while growing up in Kentucky. "I have a complicated relationship with Kentucky and that's part of the reason why," she said at a "RPDR" viewing party. "It was a problem I thought I had because of the way that I was raised in ... So I had to escape."

Both Bottoms and Envy have actively spoken out their histories with conversion therapy, as well as about recognition and abolishment of the practice. "People are fearful of what they do not understand," Envy shared in a dual interview with The Trevor Project alongside Bottoms. "This lack of empathy is at the core of conversion therapy. Fear will never stop tormenting the closed minded."

Several queens have struggled with substance abuse

A number of "RuPaul's Drag Race" queens have admitted to developing substance abuse issues. "RuPaul's Drag Race UK" Season 1 winner The Vivienne revealed her addiction caused her to seriously reevaluate her life. "When people say, 'You've got to hit rock bottom to get further,' it sounds so stupid but it's the truth," she said in one of her confessionals on the show (via Gay Times). "I had to be kicked out of my house and told that I would be dead by the time I was 30. It was the loneliest part of my life ... I was pissing my life up the wall and I could've been dead now if I didn't do anything about it."

Another beloved queen, Season 2 contestant and two-time "All Stars" competitor Jujubee, spoke to RuPaul about her steps towards recovery, something that she and the host had in common. "I broke up with my fiancé of 12 years and also made a conscious decision to stop using drugs and drinking," she admitted (via Today) to the reality show host. "That has been very impactful for me as a human being and as a drag queen." Jujubee later said in her confessional, "It's a beautiful moment for me because I needed this meeting ... I'm so happy that there's somebody here that I can relate to with this. And it just so happens to be the person that I look up to the most."

Katya experienced a devastating drug relapse

Beloved "RuPaul's Drag Race" queen Katya is known for her wacky antics, but beneath her drag character lied a person with an addiction to crystal meth that plagued her on and off for years. Katya has shared that they have experienced a few relapses before, but in 2018, she put herself on a "drag hiatus" that particularly worried fans. 

"Hi, my name is not Katya. I am Brian, a recovering drug addict and workaholic," they shared in a since-deleted social media post (via PopCulture). "I need to take some personal time for my mental health to heal and recover. I love you all, and love is more powerful than money." Katya returned to the limelight two months later and eventually resumed her activities, including her one-woman show, "Help Me, I'm Dying," and rejoining her partner-in-crime Trixie Mattel in their online series together.

The performer has shared some details about the relapse since getting help. Katya revealed that the hiatus was actually a voluntary trip to a rehabilitation center in Arizona, which was triggered by a "total psychotic break from reality" she experienced. "I could not tell what was real and what was not real," they shared with co-host Craig MacNeil on their podcast, "Whimsically Volatile." "I thought it was just a drug problem ... This was rock bottom ... You have the bottom of the barrel, I was the sludge underneath the barrel."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, or is struggling or in crisis, contact the relevant resources below: