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Tracy Morgan leaves indelible legacy
Drag star died from backstage heart attack

by Jack Kirven . Q-Notes staff

Clay Lambert (a.k.a. Tracy Morgan) passed away Oct. 14. ‘He was the epitome of a female impersonator,’ said longtime boss Rick Wilds.
After 20 years of professional achievement, nearly 100 titles and thousands of exuberant performances, Clay Edwin Lambert, who performed in drag as Tracy Morgan, passed away backstage during the Oct. 14 show at Scorpio nightclub in Charlotte. He was 41.

In a show of appreciation for the community that embraced him, Lambert’s relatives gave half of his cremated ashes to his friends and colleagues at Scorpio. He was a member of the club’s house cast for nearly two decades. The urn rests in the club’s display case in the lobby, alongside a dozen of his pageant crowns.

On the night of his death, Lambert performed two energetic routines. He told cast mates that he “didn’t feel right” after the first number, but decided to stay in the show. Walking into the dressing room after his second routine, he complained that he was experiencing severe indigestion. He added that he was going to faint and immediately collapsed.

Lambert’s color changed drastically in a matter of seconds, witnesses say. He was very hot to the touch. A medical professional in the audience was pulled backstage to begin CPR. After 911 was called, paramedics continued life-saving treatment en route to Carolinas Medical Center. Sadly, the efforts to save Lambert were unsuccessful.

According to Carol Pinkard, a Death Investigator in the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s office, Lambert died of natural causes: ischemic heart disease and coronary atherosclerosis. Lambert was HIV positive and there is an increased risk for these conditions among people living with AIDS.

“Tracy was the first Miss Scorpio,” said club owner Rick Wilds, recalling his long friendship with Lambert. “I remember when I first bought [Scorpio], Tracy sat in my lap one night and whispered in my ear, ‘I’m not goin’ nowhere — I’m stayin’ here with you.’ Who would have thought 20 years later we’d have gotten this far together?”

In the ’90s Wilds opened Chasers, another gay club where Lambert was featured. He expressed admiration for his late star’s professionalism and work ethic.

“Few survive in this career, even fewer make a living at it,” he said. “Tracy was a successful businessman. He was able to balance Clay with Tracy and he treated Tracy Morgan like a branded product. He was very consistent and totally reliable. Even when other people had off nights because of their day jobs or other distractions, Clay was there. He made his entire living from performing. That’s amazing.”

Q-Notes’ drag columnist Miss Della was equally effusive about Lambert’s “old school” skill as a performer.

“She was so glamorous,” said Miss Della. “She was an amazing entertainer. I always loved to see her dance. She was sexually provocative and she was primal and intense. There’s a reason she was known as ‘The Sex Kitten of the South.’

“This is going to be a huge loss to our community because she was so visible. When I thought of Charlotte I thought her name. We haven’t known a loss like this since Toni Lenore. Tracy was an icon for the Queen City.”

The affection Lambert inspired was obvious at the Oct. 17 visitation service — 1,000 people from across the region came to pay their respects during the three-hour viewing.

Wilds was overwhelmed by the outpouring. “On behalf of all the staff in the Scorpio/Chasers family, I want the public to know how much we have appreciated the response from the community. I was bowled over. The flowers and calls are phenomenal — I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Lambert’s following was widespread because he captured titles in Charlotte and in many surrounding cities, counties and states. In addition to being Miss Scorpio Emeritus, he was also Miss N.C. America in 1995, Miss Oleen’s, Miss Charlotte America, Miss Charlotte U.S.ofA., Miss Buncombe County, Miss East Coast, Miss Southern Coast and Miss W.Va. America.

According to Tiffany Storm, another Scorpio entertainer, Lambert competed at Miss Gay America five times, placed at least once and received the prestigious Lady Barbara Award. Storm also said Lambert is the reigning Miss Hairspray in Asheville, N.C.

“Tracy was all about pageantry,” said Miss Della. “It’s important to our community. We need public validation and the people who participate in these events foster creativity and self-confidence. This is entertainment. It’s spectacle. After you saw a Tracy Morgan show you left feeling like you’d really seen something special.”

Although Lambert is gone, he planted seeds in the community that will blossom for another generation to enjoy. For this and more, the memories of his life and career are destined to endure.

“No one can ever replace Tracy Morgan; you cannot fill her shoes,” said Wilds. “However, there are up-and-coming performers who were inspired by her. We’ll reap the benefit of the performers she nurtured and inspired. In that way, her legacy will live on.”

Lambert is survived by his mother, Jewel Haigler Harris of Charlotte; his father, Cleades E. Lambert of Mt. Holly; and his brother and sister-in-law, Carl and Kelly Lambert of Charlotte. Memorials may be made to the House of Mercy, Attn: Stan Patterson, 701 Mercy Dr., Belmont, NC 28012. Condolences may be left for the family at www.woodlawnfuneral.com.

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