Drag queen Chi Chi DeVayne, a fan favorite from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3, has died following a battle with scleroderma, pneumonia, and suspected kidney failure. The Southern-belle entertainer, whose real name was Zavion Davenport, was 34 years old.
Davenport grew up in Shreveport, La., where she was involved in gangs and struggled with her sexuality before coming out and finding a home as a member of the DeVayne drag family. “Girl, I’ve seen people shot,” she once confessed on Drag Race. “I’ve smelled, like, the smell of brains. When I tell you I come from the streets, I’m not kidding. …I could’ve been dead. I could’ve been locked up.” In an interview with San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender News, Davenport spoke of how her time on Drag Race had changed her life: “Not accepting where I came from, and who I am as a person, the voice, you know, the appearance, the everything. Drag Race has opened my eyes to see there’s so much more than where I came from and to, like, not hold that against myself. To push forward with where I wanna go in life. So yeah, it definitely has healed that aspect.”
Taking her drag-queen first name, Chi Chi, from the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Davenport cut her teeth in the Louisiana bar scene and held down two regular full-time jobs to support her drag endeavors before competing on Drag Race in 2016, eventually placing fourth. During her time on the show, she often proudly described herself as a “cheap queen,” known for her drag-on-a-dime craftiness. For her first Werk Room entrance on the Season 8 premiere, she was literally wearing a dress fashioned out of garbage bags. On a punk-themed episode guest-judged by new wave icons Blondie, the band’s Chris Stein gently reprimanded the enterprising Davenport for recycling the same pair thigh-high boots with two different outfits, but she easily won her lip-sync to Blondie’s “Call Me.”
After her initial run on Drag Race, which included a lip-sync to the Dreamgirls classic “And I Am Telling You” that is considered one of the best lip-syncs in the series’ history, DeVayne was able to elevate her style and embark on a full-time drag career. She had a small role on Season 1 of Apple TV+’s Little America and appeared in various web series and podcasts like Hey Qween, Bootleg Opinions, How to Makeup, Drag Babies, and Whatcha Packin’, and she returned for the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars in January 2018, this time coming in eighth place.
Shortly after appearing on All Stars 3, Davenport was diagnosed with scleroderma, a rare and potentially life-threatening condition caused by the immune system attacking the tissue under the skin and around internal organs and blood vessels. “I have been dealing with this over the past eight or nine months but was afraid to expose it to the public in fear of losing out on jobs and facing criticism from friends and fans,” Davenport later announced on social media. “I feel it’s finally time to let the world know what’s really going on with Chi Chi. …Bottling this up has had me in a state of depression. …It has made me hate my appearance and also made me stray away from the public eye, but I’m no longer hiding and living in a state of fear. I just ask you all to keep me in your prayers as I battle with this life-changing illness.”
Last month, Davenport was hospitalized for high blood pressure and possible kidney failure related to her scleroderma, explaining on social media, “I let it go too long without going to the doctor and these are the consequences.” She revealed that she’d had catheters to her heart and kidneys surgically installed before undergoing dialysis treatment. On Aug. 16, Davenport announced that she was back in the hospital with pneumonia, uploading a video from her bed in which she said, “Keep me in your prayers. I’ll be back soon.” At that time, many of Davenport’s Drag Race colleagues posted links to Davenport’s Venmo and PayPal accounts, urging fans to help with the ailing queen’s medical expenses. Davenport died four days later.
“We’re heartbroken to learn that Chi Chi DeVayne has passed away today,” Drag Race‘s production company, World of Wonder, said in a statement. “Her drag spread a message of love and kindness that truly touched each person she met. Rest in power, Chi Chi.” Emmy-winning Drag Race host and executive producer RuPaul Charles additionally said a statement, “I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of Chi Chi DeVayne. 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. On behalf of VH1, World of Wonder and the cast and crew of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I extend my deepest sympathy — from our family to hers.”
Upon hearing the news of Davenport’s tragic death, many other members of the Drag Race community took to social media to pay tribute.
I am literally so upset about Chichi! I wish there was more I could do to help out her family in her honor or something. I’m thinking we should do a benefit show for her family to help with the costs of her funeral.
— Trinity The Tuck (@TrinityTheTuck) August 20, 2020
I’m heartbroken to hear about the loss of our beloved Chi Chi De Vayne. She had a natural, God-given light within her & she shared it with all of us on Drag Race. She was a star & without her the world has less sparkle. I’m sending love to her family, her friends and her fans. ❤️
— Ross Mathews (@helloross) August 20, 2020
Rest well, beautiful Chi Chi 💔
— Brooke Lynn Hytes (@Bhytes1) August 20, 2020
😔😔😔😔 shine on baby. Damn. 💔
— Detox (@TheOnlyDetox) August 20, 2020
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