When Antoine Ashley, perhaps best known as Sahara Davenport, the second season star of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo, died this week there were a lot of questions. But Ashley’s management and family have confirmed that the 27-year-old passed away due to heart failure at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
The performer’s mother, Angela Ashley Reddish, spoke on behalf of the family this week, saying, “I thank God for giving me an Angel Antoine Ashley to share with the rest of the world. My family and I would like to thank everyone for their condolences and support. We know that our Angel is now dancing in heaven. May God bless each and everyone.”
Ashley’s boyfriend of six years and fellow drag entertainer Karl Westerberg (also perhaps best known as Manila Luzon from Drag Race) adds: “Antoine lived to entertain the world as Sahara Davenport, and the world was in awe over his extreme talent. But his heart is what made us all fall in love with him. To me he will always be my best friend, my hero, my Diva, and I have always considered myself more than lucky to have him be forever a part of my life. Thank you, hon, for bringing so much beauty to all of us. Your legacy lives on in me and all of us you’ve touched.”
Ashley first started performing in drag on the Dallas nightclub circuit while earning a B.F.A. in dance performance from Southern Methodist University. After he graduated, he moved to New York City where he began modeling, acting and dancing before becoming a fixture on the nightlife scene.
By 2008, Ashley received a Glammy Award for Best Dance Performer and competed in the top 12 of the 2009 National Miss USofA pageant as Miss Gay New Jersey USofA. Known for his high-energy dancing, arguably the most spectacular “Lip Sync For Your Life” performed on ballet pointe shoes, he was a popular contestant on Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. Over the years, he’s also performed in cabaret, music and on television. And as drag star Sahara Davenport, Ashley debuted singles like “Pump With Me” and “Go Off,” a dance song that reached Number 35 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart. Davenport also very recently appeared in Luzon’s “Best XXXcessory” music video, which was released on September 18.
Logo has planned a tribute to the drag star on October 5. “We’ll be running an all-day marathon of Sahara’s season along with Untucked, with her final episode airing on Friday. We’ll be airing Sahara fan tweets all day long in conjunction with the marathon,” says Jason Shumaker of Logo/VH1.
Logo will also dedicate the first episode of RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race to Sahara’s memory on October 22.
A private funeral service is being scheduled for late next week in Rockville, MD. And a public memorial celebration, including tribute performances by the drag star’s friends and fellow entertainers, is being planned for November 2 at XL Nightclub New York City. Details can be found on Sahara Davenport’s Facebook Fan Page.