BRISBANE recently lost one of its most-loved, renowned and respected drag entertainers, Daryl Pike — aka Alaska St James — who personally championed LGBTI community mental health awareness.
“It is with great sadness that I have to tell our community of the passing of Alaska St James/Daryl Pike,” close friend Kobi Cooke posted to social media.
“As far as the police are concerned, he passed away peacefully in his sleep at home.”
Pike was an ardent believer in promoting mental health awareness within the community and worked closely with the Gay and Lesbian Welfare Association, who expressed sadness at his passing.
“Daryl was a great supporter of the GLWA. He was an amazing and passionate advocate for our work and our message,” GLWA co-convenor Ian Davis told the Star Observer.
“He was a great colleague and we will miss him dearly.”
Tributes to Pike have also flooded in over social media with many expressing disbelief that their friend had left the stage for good.
“The time has come to hang up the wig, toss those heels on the floor and throw your feet up on the couch. Now it’s your turn to watch the world go by,” one tribute read.
“Daryl/Alaska, you were my saving grace. You pulled me out of the dark when I needed a light and you gave me the smile on my face when you entered a room not giving a fuck about anyone else.” another said.
A Brisbane woman who started her own Movember campaign in 2012, Losa Morrison, spoke of Pike’s dedication to combating depression as both himself and St James.
“Raising awareness for mental health was Daryl’s passion and he was willing to perform at any event in honour of that cause if it meant organisations like beyond blue, lifeline, GLWA etc benefited.” Morrison said.
“He knew that mental health was bigger than anything anyone of us probably realised. Daryl was an inspiration to me and while I’m going to miss him, I’m not going to forget the goals and passion we shared for community connectedness.”
Cooke shared his story with the Star Observer of meeting Pike after his move to Brisbane from Sydney decades ago and St James’ ability to light up a room.
“Not only did Alaska help you put your woes behind you during a performance, but she could do that for the rest of the night. She had a knack for making everyone feel good,” he said.
“Even after a show, she would wander through an audience dispensing laughs and seemed to have the ability to zone in on those who may have been feeling a bit down, feeling left out or lonely, or maybe someone who was a visitor didn’t know a soul.”
Speaking of how their friendship blossomed after Cooke spearheaded the creation of the social support group Rainbow OK?, Cooke said that his passion to help was relentless.
“I was mind boggled as to her passion for this event then realised that this was probably what she did for every gig, putting so much thought and effort into every performance,” Cooke said.
“In the end his huge heart had given up on him. Maybe he used it up too much on others.
“Actually he worked hard making sure others felt important and that they were loved. He cared about his friends and the community and no matter how he felt, he always gave you some words of encouragement and a cheeky grin.
“Brisbane has certainly lost an awesome, classy man and a beautiful soul.”
Fellow Brisbane drag alumni, Matthew Stevens (aka Annette Ball) praised Pike for bringing St James to the world and supporting his fellow drag family as much his own blood one.
“He was the loving son and brother, nephew, grandson, cousin, uncle and friend to so many, and Alaska was the penultimate Show Girl, Drag Mother and inspiration to the masses, with an acid tongue,” Stevens told the Star Observer
“A rapier wit and sense of humour so warped only the truly twisted appreciated it. As a close confidant and ‘chorus girl’ to his main event, I have heard stories that would curdle milk and confessions that would melt the polar ice caps of hearts – some stories will be shared, some will be stored in the vault and some will not be told in polite company.
“The majority of us also knew Alaska St James and have been inspired in some way by her faultless performances by her professionalism and commitment to high standards for all drag shows and the power behind the songs she chose to express herself from the man with the heart from behind the mask.”
A memorial will be held for Pike at iconic Brisbane gay venue Imaginations Nightclub at Spring Hill on March 23. Details for the event are here.
Family have requested that in place of flowers, donations be made in Pike’s memory to the GLWA.
(Main image credit: Ali Choudhry)