Born in Toronto, Russell became president of Mae West's fan club as a teenager, and he briefly worked and lived in Los Angeles as her secretary. He returned to Toronto where he moved in with the writer Margaret Gibson. He worked as a hairdresser while pursuing his career as a stage performer. By 1971, he was a regular performer in Toronto gay clubs and had a burgeoning international following.
His impersonations included Carol Channing, Bette Davis, Mae West, Barbra Streisand, Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Midler, Anita Bryant, Shirley Bassey, Peggy Lee and Judy Garland. While performing, he always spoke and sang in the voices of the celebrities he was impersonating.
In 1977, Russell starred in the film Outrageous!, based on a short story written by Gibson about their time as roommates. The film was entered into the 28th Berlin International Film Festival, where Russell won the Silver Bear for Best Actor. A decade later, in 1987, he starred in the sequel to Outrageous! entitled Too Outrageous!.
Russell fathered a daughter, Susan Allison ("Allison"), who was born January 6, 1973 in Toronto. Father and daughter developed a relationship in the years prior to his death. Although he publicly identified as gay rather than bisexual, Russell married his close friend Lori Jenkins in 1982.
Russell remained married to Lori until his death in 1990 of a stroke related to complications from AIDS. He was cremated and buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Port Perry.
His widow Lori died on August 15, 2008 at Toronto Grace Hospital, after a long battle with cancer. Her body was buried beside that of her husband in Port Perry.
Russell's friend Stephen Jon Postal and his wife Guia Dino Postal based the character of Kevin Purcell on Russell in their book, Of Margaret and Madness: A Novel Inspired By True Events, ISBN 9731434362292, 9781434332752, Published by AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana.
A play entitled Margaret and Craig, written by David Solomon, based on the writing of both Russell and his friend, Margaret Gibson is in development for a further theatrical life. The play was produced in workshop at Vassar College's Powerhouse Theater in the summer of 2011 with Mario Cantone as Craig Russell, directed by Sheryl Kaller, and music directed by Paul Masse, with Jeni Verdon portraying Margaret.
Craig Russell and his Ladies by David Street
Publisher: Gage Publishing (1979)
Amazon: Craig Russell and his Ladies
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