Adrian Cowan, who performed in drag as Ada Buffet, died of a brain injury caused from a fall in February. Cowan grew up in the Dundalk neighborhood of Colgate behind Eastpoint Mall and is the oldest of three siblings and uncle of three nieces and one nephew.
Cowan started his career as a drag performer as “Judy” when he was 16.
“He was a kind person who loved everyone,” says fiance Tim Phillips. The couple became engaged a few months before Cowan’s death. “He stood up for everyone who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”
The stout and brassy-voiced Cowan was a staunch anti-bullying advocate and known on the scene for helping new drag performers and those struggling to get a foothold on the scene.
“He stood up for the outcasts and oddities of the gay community,” Phillips says. “That was his family.”
One of the would-be outcasts that Cowan took under his wing was Klitorika Browne. “The first gig I ever had as an actual performer was all thanks to Ada Buffet,” says Browne, a local drag performer who is known for elaborate and complex face makeup. “I had only been doing drag for two months at that time. I was committed to my unconventional approach, but still very self-conscious about not fitting in with the pageant queens here. Without this kind of support early on from experienced queens like Ada and Josie Foster, I may not have found the nerve to continue. What I admired most about Ada, though, was that she was punk as fuck.”
As an organizer, Cowan booked more than 40 drag performers a year at Baltimore Pride’s Lady Lisa Drag Stage in Druid Hill Park and routinely put together benefit shows for House of Ruth and local AIDS charities, according to Phillips.
As Ada, Cowan was known for a big personality—think Harvey Fierstein with a Baltimore accent—that had been on the scene since the early ’90s. Ada would alternate between bawdy jokes and hustling back to the dressing rooms like a mother hen helping her chicks along.
Browne described what it was like working with the scene’s “mother figure.” “Against the backdrop of Baltimore’s rhinestoned pageantry scene, she ran a monthly show that was crass, unvarnished, real, and totally delightful. She would perform in a gown with bare feet and a shot in her hand, not giving a shit what anyone with a library card had to say. Queens like Ada are the reason I do drag. Her passing has left a big, sloppy hole in the community.”
Soon after Cowan’s death, a benefit was held at Leon’s that, according to the Washington Blade, raised $1,200 to help the family pay for medical expenses.