Sentimentally, we say: Memories light the corners of our minds; misty watercolor memories of the way he was.
The way Kenny Kerr was—especially when he was Barbra Streisand—was emblematic of the campy-but-entertaining heart of Las Vegas. Our town’s father of female impersonators, Kerr died Sunday at age 60, leaving a legacy as the man who permanently planted the flag for that art form in this city.
As the star of Boy-lesque in the late-’70s at the shoebox-size Silver Slipper casino, Kerr brought female impersonation out of the still-taboo shadows. While his Cher and Babs impersonations made him a marquee name—and made a fan of La Streisand herself—Kerr was more than a tourist’s guilty pleasure, his Boy-lesque managing to lure locals as well as visitors.
Born in Blue Anchor, New Jersey, Kerr found his career path at 15 when, while shopping in a Philadelphia mall, he was approached by producers of a local female impersonation show. Told he resembled Streisand, he was asked to audition and won a role in the show, and a destiny was set.
After honing his craft, he arrived in Vegas and opened Boy-Lesque in 1977, dazzling crowds with his dead-on impersonations, boffo gowns and razor-sharp wit. Eventually, after a 12-year run at the Silver Slipper, Boy-Lesque migrated to other points around town, including the Sahara and the Plaza, before Kerr left for Palm Springs, though he recently returned to perform at Las Vegas clubs and the Onyx Theatre.
Productions such as Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas and Marino’s previous, long-running An Evening at La Cage may be fresher in our drag-show consciousness, but Kenny Kerr was a Vegas groundbreaker—looking fabulous as he did it.
This city will always have memories of the way he was.
Did you ever see Kenny Kerr perform? Tell us about it in the comments section below.