Unforgettable: friends remember Natasha Richards

By : Chelsea Santiago and Jeremy Williams
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TAMPA BAY – On stage, Natasha Richards demanded attention with her immaculate hair-dos, radiant costumes and flair for theatrics. She had the stage presence that kept all eyes on her.

Richards passed away Dec. 2 in her home at the age of 44. She was born in Queens, N.Y., but moved to New Port Richey, Fla., as a child, and later to Clearwater.

Fellow performer and Miss ASAP 2016 Stephanie Stuart knew Richards for nearly half of her 44 years.

“She was quite talented, legs for miles, but it was that talent that was so impressive. She could take any number and turn it into pure entertainment,” Stuart says.

Richards began performing at the Blue Moon in New Port Richey even before she was old enough to enter the club.

“Natasha and her drag daughter, Nicolette Ashton, used to sneak in the backdoor to do shows [at the Blue Moon] because they weren’t old enough to get in,” Stuart says.

Richards went on to become the youngest crowned Miss Gay USofA at the age of 24. She continued to stun audiences with her amazing performances and one-of-a-kind outfits not only in the Tampa Bay area but around the United States and abroad as a result of the many titles she held.

“She had a commanding presence when she entered a room, and she carried that with her until the day she died,” Stuart says. “She had such a strong presence, and I think it’s because she had such a strong spirit. When she was around she was very much the Grande Dame. She held court everywhere she went.”

It wasn’t just the big pageants that held the talent of Richards, either. She hosted many drag events in the Tampa Bay Area, including working with Stuart at the Chill Chamber in New Port Richey, as well as working drag queen bingo at Blur, Hamburger Mary’s, and gay bowling night at Dunedin Lanes.

Richards was also one of the performers who brought Latin Night to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed this year in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“She was like the drag queen that set the tone or the pace: She had some of the most exciting performances, one of the best shows, and she was a huge draw,” says Nick Janovsky, a friend of Richards’, who went to many of her shows.

Janovsky recalled Richards as being the one to give him his 21st birthday shot; being awkward and nervous at first, he felt Richards made him feel welcomed and at ease. “Natasha Richards became a comfortable presence, and I’m thankful for her warmth and humor,” he says.

Richards easily carried her larger than life personality from the spotlight to becoming a commanding presence in the LGBTQ community, making time to mentor many young drag queens throughout their careers.

“She taught others to be comfortable; it’s not about throwing on a wig and some makeup,” Janovsky says. “It’s actually about being comfortable enough that you can project yourself on a stage, and she inspired so many others to do so the way that she did so naturally and with easy.”

Richards legacy as an active member and leader in the LGBTQ community and as a strong advocate for transgender equality, combating bullying and discrimination will always be remembered.

“I was watching the TV series The Voice the other night, and Billy Gilman opened the show with the song ‘My Way’,” recalls Stuart. “He poured his heart and soul into that performance, and I sat there and wept like a baby, because I could see Natasha on that stage doing that number herself. That’s how she did it: her way. She lived her way, ran her career her way, her life was her choice. We could all learn from that.”

Photos from the Facebook pages of Natasha Richards and Stephanie Stuart.

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