Offstage, she was known as Zavion Davenport, but most of the world knew her – and fell in love with her – as Chi Chi DeVayne. Sadly, her time on this earth came to a tragic end. Chi Chi passed away on Aug. 20, according to Entertainment Weekly, after the RuPaul’s Drag Race alum revealed to her Instagram followers that she had been hospitalized amid a battle with pneumonia. “Keep me in your prayers, I’ll be back soon,” she said in a video shared on Saturday (Aug. 15), showing her attached to medical equipment while laying in a hospital bed.
Though the exact cause of death wasn’t immediately known, an immense loss was instantly felt by her fans and fellow drag performers. “I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of Chi Chi DeVayne,” RuPaul said in a statement to HollywoodLife. “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.”
“I’m literally so devastated and sick to my stomach,” tweeted Shea Couleé, winner of Drag Race All Stars season 5. “Wake me up when it’s all over.” Jaida Essence Hall, the winner of Drag Race season 12, shared a memorial to Chi Chi on Instagram. “An angel! Can’t believe this.” As the world mourns a light that was extinguished much too soon, this is what you need to know about Chi Chi DeVayne.
1. Chi Chi DeVayne was a drag queen who appeared on two seasons of Drag Race. “Laissez la bon temps roulez!” said Chi Chi after she entered the “Werk Room” on season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. From the get-go, it was clear that she had charisma, quickly becoming a fan-favorite with her Southern charm – and incredible dance moves. She finished fourth on season 8 and returned for the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. Though her time was memorable, she was ultimately eliminated in the third week.
2. She was the pride of Shreveport, Louisiana. Born in Shreveport, Chi Chi had a rough upbringing. She was in gangs and carried a gun before finding drag. “Girl, I’ve seen people shot,” she told fellow contestant Robbie Turner on the show. “I’ve smelled, like, the smell of brains. When I tell you I come from the streets, I’m not kidding. … I could have been dead. I could have been locked up. But I’m here with you girls.”
Ultimately, she found the art of drag, allowing her to channel her natural talents for all the world to see. “Drag Race definitely helped me heal from a lot of things from my past,” she told the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender News in 2016. “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.”
3. She had been struggling with health issues. In July, she was hospitalized with high blood pressure and suspected kidney failure, per EW. Chi Chi told fans she had catheters to her heart and kidneys surgically installed before she underwent dialysis treatment. Despite this diagnosis, she appeared to be on the mend and was discharged later that month.
In 2018, Chi Chi revealed she had been diagnosed with scleroderma – a rare disease that hardens and tightens the skin and connective tissues, according to The Gay Times. “Lots of people don’t know, but I was recently diagnosed with scleroderma 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,” she wrote at the time.
“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.”
4. She had one of the most memorable lip-syncs in Drag Race history. For those who don’t watch, each week in Drag Race, the two lowest-scoring queens face off in a lip-sync challenge, with Ru telling one “Shantay, you stay” before telling another to “sashay away.” In week 7 of season 8, Chi Chi faced off against Thorgy Thor, lip-syncing to Jennifer Holiday’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (from Dreamgirls.) The emotion that Chi Chi, a more acrobatic performer, delivered made this one of the most memorable moments in the show’s run.
5. She will forever be remembered as an entertainer. I want the legacy of Chi Chi Devayne to be a damn good performer that came from nowhere and took the world by storm,” she told HuffPost in 2016. “I want to be one of the household names – I want to be one of the “RuPauls.” I want to do music, film, acting — all of that kind of stuff.”