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Saturday, November 3, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Craig Russell, Actor And Widely Known Female Impersonator, Was Mae West Fan

Los Angeles Times

Craig Russell, star of the 1977 film ``Outrageous,'' hailed by critics as an insightful tale of the gay underworld in which a schizophrenic girl moves in with a struggling female impersonator, has died of a stroke resulting from AIDS, a Toronto hospital official said. He was 42.

The internationally known female impersonator and actor died Tuesday night at Toronto Western Hospital, according to spokeswoman Lucie Baistrocchi.

Mr. Russell became an international box office success with ``Outrageous,'' a low-budget, semi-autobiographical film in which he performed many of his impersonations, especially of his idol, Mae West.

After that he acted in nightclubs and on television, imitating Peggy Lee, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Sophie Tucker, Barbra Streisand and many more. In 1986, Mr. Russell did ``Too Outrageous,'' a sequel to his film hit.

Born in Toronto, Mr. Russell as a teen-ager established a worldwide Mae West Fan Club. In 1965 he took a bus to Hollywood, met Miss West and worked for her as a secretary.

He then began a struggling performing career in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Gradually he became ranked with a select group of female impersonators who were considered illusionists rather than just men in drag. ``There are no real stars left,'' he would tell his audiences, ``so we have to impersonate the ones who were.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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