Wednesday will be her 11th appearance dropping from a giant shoe two stories above Duval Street on CNN’s New Year’s Eve broadcast, but Key West drag star Sushi says she still hasn’t met her silver-haired co-host, Anderson Cooper.
“I always wanted to, especially after he came out,” Sushi says. “But I have met Kathy Griffin. We met the last night of Cher’s concert in Las Vegas. She was sitting right behind me. She was like ‘Oh my God! Are you my Sushi?’”
Sushi’s been an Old Town institution for more than 20 years, when she first arrived from Portland, Oregon.
“I’ve been doing drag since high school in 1984. That was a commotion in Keizer, Oregon,” says Sushi, AKA Gary Marion.
When Marion first moved to Key West, he performed as Soy Sauce.
Marluxe Duval, “another queen from Portland who lives here,” told Marion the name Soy Sauce “was too ethnic.”
“She dressed me up one night,” Sushi recalls. “False eyelashes, a wig. Put me in high heels for the first time and named me Sushi. She said I looked really fishy. I’m half Japanese, so it really fit. My mother was full-blooded Japanese.”
Sushi, who leases the 801 Upstairs Cabaret at 801 Duval St., employes 17 drag queens who perform two shows a night, seven nights a week. “We have drag meetings every Tuesday at 2,” she says.
This year will be Sushi’s 17th in the shoe.
“The first year it was made out of chicken wire, papier-mâché and two-by-fours. They had painted the inside of the shoe black and the first year I wore white. I sat down in the shoe and went swish, swish, and the whole gown was ruined. I was so mad.
“The second year, we had the same shoe, but it rained a few days before. The papier-mâché got mushy and my whole shoe went through the shoe.
“The third year they had this auto mechanic designer on Stock Island make a really nice fiberglass shoe. That’s held up through the years. They paint it every year to refresh. Different glitter.”
Every New Year’s, CNN requires Sushi sign a waiver: “I can’t use profanity. I can’t talk about anything sexual. I have to be a good girl.”
Sushi hopes that one year, New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin broadcasts live from Key West rather than Times Square in New York City.
“I would love for them to come down. I’d put Kathy in the shoe with me.” And Cooper? “He’d be sitting in my lap.”
Better do it soon, says Sushi: “I’m turning 48 next year. I’m going to be the old lady in the shoe.”