One of the Brooklyn scene’s most important and pioneering queens and event makers, a mentor to legions of artists on and off stage, and just an all-around nightlfe icon, San Francisco-born Merrie Cherry has been in a constant state of creation, production and performance for over half a decade now. She’s lived as fast and hard as most others in the biz, while creating vital showcases such as the DRAGnet pageant and the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards… and it seemed like she was going to go on forever, constantly working and creating. But then reality showed up, and took its toll. Merrie tells Thotyssey what happened, what will happen next, and why the future remains bright for this queen of queens
Thotyssey: Merrie, it’s so good to finally talk to you!
Merrie Cherry: Thank you!
Where are you now?
I’ve been with my friend and her husband at their place in Park Slope–a little off the beaten path, very quiet.
That sounds nice. Happy Pride by the way… and happy birthday!
It must be surreal to have all this going on with your health, and to be cloistered, during those two big events.
To be honest, even though it came at a really bad time—work, financially—it could’ve been much worse. Things were going to get worse anyway. My excitement level was going to get more heavy. My body was telling me to slow down down. I’ve been doing too much, for too long.
I heard you were able to watch the Drag Race finale, at least! What did you
We all knew who was going to win. Like Bob said,“New York City has some of the best drag in the world.” It makes me proud and honored to be part of a city that has brought the crown back more than any other city.
Okay, let’s talk about exactly what happened to you. Describe the moment when you realized that something was wrong.
I went out with some friends, and we had a wild night of drinking and carrying. Then I went home and passed out. And I remember that when I woke up, I couldn’t feel my hand and my arm felt weird, and I felt very disoriented. I eventually started to feel better, but two of my fingers on my hand were still completely immobile. I was like, how weird. So I decided to do some research online, and I decided it was maybe something called Saturday Night Palsy—when you fall asleep on your arm in a weird way, and it damages your nerve endings. From what I read, it was going to be a few days, a week, upwards of a month before I would get the feeling again. So I cancelled my gig that night, thinking I needed a rest.
But 24 hours later, I knew this was just not right. So I went to CityMD, and they were like, “we thank you are having a stroke.” They sent me to Beth Israel, but they told me there that it was probably Saturday Night Palsy. But then the stroke got worse.
The next day, I wasn’t able to use my entire right hand at all. And I was dragging my right leg… it was very weak. And the right side of my face was very numb and tingly… but I could still make a smile, thank God! So I went back to the same hospital, and within four hours they diagnoses me as having a stroke, and they admitted me.
You must have been terrified.
They had a very weird bedside matter, but they wheeled me in to an emergency room and left me by myself, and I was sitting there crying. I pride myself in being a very strong person. It was very surreal, but I pride myself in being able to accept situations very quickly.
For the first two days I was in the hospital, I thought it was a dream. I kept praying that I would wake up. It took those two whole days for me to realize that this is not a dream, this is your life. I had to get over this, get strong from this, and learn from this.
Were the doctors able to tell you how this happened?
Many factors. My mother had four strokes when I was young, and the fourth one killed her… so I definitely had it in my family. Also: being overweight and not working out very much, having high blood pressure, drinking excessively… and drug usage. I partake in party favors, which I am not afraid to say. I felt invincible with cocaine. But to be honest, that’s what they told me primarily caused this stroke. Cocaine shrinks your blood
vessels, which makes it harder for oxygen to get through.
Before this happened, did you have any indication that you had serious health issues?
I’d been told that I had high blood pressure, but to be honest I never paid much attention to it. When they told me it was high, it was always because I had done cocaine the night before and hadn’t gone to sleep yet. I have sleep apnea, I don’t sleep very well. So I always associated my high blood pressure with those things.
So many people in nightlife live exactly this way. It’s kind of a miracle that we’re all still walking around at this point.
For sure! There are a few people that I know whom I’ve actually had conversations with about this. When I found out about cocaine, I was very mad at myself… but also very concerned for my friends. I love nightlife, and I will always love nightlife. But that stuff doesn’t have to be a part of it for you to have a good time. You think you need it to be the
life of the party. But now that I’ve stopped drinking and doing drugs (besides marijuana), I find that I still have that energy that people fell in love with before I started drinking and doing other stuff a lot.
When I started working so much, it was something that I wasn’t doing anymore because it was fun… it became a job. But there are certain people that just made it so special for me, which is why I still do it. I feel, especially with all the outpouring of love I’ve gotten,
that this has brought me back to why I started to do drag. For the community. I see how big of an impact I have on people, which makes me want to care more about myself. It’s for the next generational of gay kids that want to move to New York, who are introduced to me.
So, how do you feel now?
It’s been two weeks now, and that’s the longest I’ve gone without alcohol since I became a part of nightlife six and a half years ago. It’s a huge change for me, but right now I have no interest in having alcohol. Am I ever going to drink it again? Probably, sure. But right
now, I’m so focused on getting myself back together, and getting myself back to the venues and places where I know I belong. But a lot has to change now.
I have a lot more rules about what I can eat, and what I can do. I won’t be having that third shot… I’m on a two drink minimum. Having that third shot is no longer about, “how will I get home?” It’s about “will I ever be able to do anything, ever again? Now I know that if I don’t follow those rules, I could die. My mortality is at risk.
This has all put things into perspective, and it’s made me more focused on my career than ever. I think all the going out has clouded me a little bit… distracted me. So now, instead of me having FOMO about what all my friends are doing, it’s time to focus on Merrie Cherry.
What’s cooking, as far as what’s in store for Merrie?
I’m working on a big project, with other New York City queens. It’s in the very early stages now. All I can say is that it’s something that’s been missing in the market.
Amazing… can’t wait to hear more about it! How do you usually come up with ideas for new shows and events?
I went to school for advertising, which has helped me build a very creative mindset for event planning, and it’s given me a business mindset as well. I look at everything in both a creative way and a business way, so anything I do has to make money (for me or for charity). I’ve always came up with ideas that I’ve used for myself, but there are ideas I have for events being delegated right now to others because I think they’d be the
best people to do them now. I can’t do everything!
Are you going to significantly scale back your nightlife presence for the time being?
I might do less in the beginning. There are only a few things I’ll be doing in the next three weeks. I’ll be reading to children for Drag Queen Story Hour, And that big project I mentioned will start in two weeks as well. I plan on being at “Brown Sugar,” a party I started with MoMo Shade [featuring queens of color performing at Macri Park], but not performing… maybe helping out with DJing. Besides that, I’m taking a month off.
I was, but I got booked for Vancouver Pride. So I’m performing there the first weekend of August.
Amazing! And this just in: CAKES, the weekly Wednesday party at Metropolitan Bar that you’ve been a part of, is acting this week on the 4th of July as a benefit for the Merrie Cherry Fund. After all the benefits for the disenfranchised you’ve hosted and all the support you’ve given the Brooklyn queer community, folks are coming to turn a number in your name. It’s a pretty great lineup: Horrorchata, Hannah Lou, Devo Monique, Misty Meaner, Mocha Lite, Will Sheridan, Ragamuffin, and many more. Will you be there in person, or in spirit?
I will be there in person. I wanted to start getting back into somewhat of a regular routine.
But otherwise, all you can do now is heal.
In the beginning, I couldn’t even open my hand. They tried to get me to open it, and I just couldn’t. Now I can get my palm to face out, and move three of the five fingers. That makes me very happy. I’ve been doing exercises and staying active. When I first walked into that hospital room, I thought Merrie Cherry wasn’t going to exist anymore, and I feel
hopeful for the future. But I’m not going to be a hundred percent back into nightlife until I am a hundred and fifty percent better.
You’ll probably be a brand new woman when you return… people might not even recognize you!
I’ve already lost a little over 20 pounds! It’s crazy.
The shitty reality though is that, when you are a full-time artist, you are very unlikely to have health insurance under this current administration. Thank God you have a GoFundMe page.
That was created by Bushwig. I really didn’t expect that. I woke up one day, and Simon from Bushwig called and said “can you give me a quote about what drag means to you?” I gave it to him and asked what it was for, and he said “don’t worry about it.” Then he posted it on line, and I was like, in tears. I don’t really cry that much… I don’t believe in it. But I have cried more in the last ten days then I probably have in my entire life. But I felt very overwhelmed and honored that Bushwig did that. And the fact that there are so many people participating and giving, it blows my mind.
For all you’ve done for the community, it’s a well-deserved gesture. So in closing: what is the most important takeaway that everyone should have, as far as what happened to you and how it might apply to their own lives?
Slow down, and take a look around you. Listen to doctors. If I had gone to a doctor earlier and been put on the right medication, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in right now. I thought I was invincible, because I was living this fab New York nightlife, and nothing would happen to me. There are no guarantees in life!
Thank you, Merrie!
Metropolitan Bar will host a benefit for Merry Cherry on Wednesday, July 4th (10pm). Please contribute to her GoFundMe page. Check Thotyssey’s calendar for her scheduled appearances, and follow Merrie on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.