Chi Chi DeVayne, the self-proclaimed Southern bayou princess who dazzled viewers of RuPaul’s drag show competitions with impassioned lip sync performances and head-over-heels dance routines, died Thursday. Ms. Devayne, known offstage as Zavion Davenport, was 34.
The Davenport family confirmed the death in a statement on the star’s Instagram account. No cause was given, though she had had ongoing health problems.
RuPaul Charles, the eponymous host of the shows whose contestants often use male and female pronouns interchangeably, said in statement: “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.”
In 2016, Ms. Devayne competed in Season 8 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”; in 2018, she was featured in Season 3 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.”
She gained a following among fans, both for delivering splits and high kicks on the runway and for candid, revealing moments away from the stage.
In Ms. Devayne’s first year on the show, she told fellow contestants backstage, “I wish that I had the guts to stand up for gay rights.” In response, one of those contestants, Bob the Drag Queen, smiled and said, “Go do it — you can start anytime.”
Ms. Devayne, in full makeup and dressed in a fuchsia ballgown, responded by shaking her head and saying, “You can’t do it in Shreveport,” referring to her hometown in Louisiana. “They’ll blow your head off.”
That moment captured a paradox, Jenna Wortham wrote in The New York Times. “Queer and gay culture has been so widely co-opted and incorporated into mainstream popular culture that it can feel commonplace, embraced by default,” she wrote. “Yet, pop culture has barely started grappling with more complex and ugly contemporary narratives, ones that make clear that universal acceptance is still a fantasy.”
Zavion Michael Davenport was born Sept. 24, 1985, in Shreveport.
In a 2017 interview with The Shreveport Times, Ms. Devayne described her early, pre-fame life. There were lessons on ballet, West African and modern dance and gymnastics, she said. There were also days spent with friends in empty fields during which they would “turn flips all day long,” she said.
“And once I started doing drag, I had to incorporate that into my act because everybody likes a dancing queen,” she told the paper. But there were also setbacks. “I was tired of working two jobs and I felt like I didn’t have time to go back to school because I had to work to pay bills and I was in bankruptcy,” she told the paper.
She started performing at a club and gained a dedicated following for her eccentric shows.
Then came “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” where Ms. Devayne’s Southern charm, acrobatics and candor would find its biggest audience. “Girl, I’ve seen people shot,” she said on the show. “I’ve smelled, like, the smell of brains. When I tell you I come from the streets, I’m not kidding.” In another interview, she spoke about joining a gang and carrying a gun. “‘Drag Race’ definitely helped me heal from a lot of things from my past,” she told The San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender News.
She finished in fourth place on Season 8 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and found a global audience. Ms. Devayne performed in shows around the world, telling The Shreveport Times, “Outside of the United States, the fans are wild.”
In 2018, Ms. Devayne returned to compete among the show’s all-stars. Though she was more experienced, so were her competitors. She finished eighth. “I’m so sorry,” she tearfully told the judges in one episode, admitting that the other competitors’ high skill levels made her question her own worth.
Memorably, the guest judge and life coach Constance Zimmer replied, “Chi Chi, you’re worth it.”
Information on survivors was not immediately available Thursday night.
After becoming famous, Ms. Devayne reflected on how her new life had changed her lifestyle back home. “I rarely do shows at home anymore because I’m relaxing,” she told The Shreveport Times, “taking care of my plants and just enjoying life.”