I met Darrell Duffey a few times through his wife Donna, who is in my writing group at the Renton Senior Center.
I have written about Donna’s career as a belly dancer, but found out that her husband Darrell is an entertainer as well, doing incredible celebrity impressions at local events. I met with him at their home in the Kennydale area of the Renton Highlands.
“We like it here,” he said. “It’s quiet and private with plenty of wildlife.”
It was one of those recent hot days in Renton, and we talked in their front yard, while I admired the colorful flowers on their front deck. Darrell kept spraying the grass near our feet to cool us off — in between answering my questions and occasionally breaking out in one of the celebrity voices he has in his repertoire.
Darrell was born in Big Timber, Mont., where he graduated from a high school so small they often had to use cheerleaders to fill out a five-man basketball team. He was the typical class clown, he said, making everyone laugh with his W.C. Fields impressions, which he gladly gave me an example of.
After four years at Montana State University, he moved to Seattle in 1974, and finished at the University of Washington with a major in zoology and minor in chemistry. He planned to go to dental school, but became discouraged working in a dental lab, so he sold real estate for a few years in Federal Way.
His love for making people laugh blossomed after he married Donna in 1985. They started performing together, combining his comedic impressions as an opener for her dancing. They entertained at parties, side shows, retirement homes and charities. Darrell then took some comedy classes. They both even worked as film extras – including on 1994’s “Disclosure” with Demi Moore and Michael Douglas.
At the same time, Darrell taught himself to deal poker so well, that even today he travels to Las Vegas to deal for the televised World Series of Poker.
It was also in Las Vegas where his acting career really began. He opened for a singing competition in Boulder Station in 2001, doing a tribute to Ed Sullivan. Suddenly, standing next to me with clenched teeth, there was the familiar sound of Ed Sullivan, talking about his ‘really big shew!’
Other people who have seen Darrell doing impressions remark how the structure of his face seems to morph into whomever he is impersonating. I could see the truth in that observation myself.
“Living with Darrell is like living with a character – several characters!” said Donna.
While working at the Rio in Vegas, Darrell was chosen by Caesar’s Entertainment to perform in a talent competition at the Imperial Palace. After that, he attended the Reel Awards – a celebrity impersonation convention. Darrell showed me an album with photos of himself and other celebrity impressionists.
This was followed by a contract with New York Talent Scouts, to work for the top foreign actor’s agency. He spent 60 days outside Beijing filming “Dage Ju,” in which he played President Richard Nixon. Soon after that, he played Nixon again for two Chinese television series.
“Nixon is a huge icon in China,” Darrell said. “Nixon went to Taiwan with Kissinger to meet with Mao Tse-tung after 25 years of no communication. This resulted in a major trade agreement and the SALT treaty limiting nuclear arms. And Nixon got those two pandas from Mao.”
He recently returned from Budapest, where he played Nixon again for the FLX Network in Sweden. The movie is a sequel to the “100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” the highest-grossing Swedish movie ever. During the filming, he was made up by Academy Award nominee, British makeup artist Duncan Jarman, who received an Oscar nomination fir his work on Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant.” The photos could make you believe he is the reborn Nixon.
It’s even more believable when you hear Darrell, with fingers raised in the former president’s traditional “victory” salute, say “I am not a crook!”
Darrell will be attending the premier in Stockholm on Dec. 18. It’s scheduled to be released on Christmas Day here so we will all be able to see him playing Nixon in the White House, on the red phone, with Kissinger and with the military.
Darrell is looking for other acting possibilities while working with a Harvard screenwriter to promote two plays in Sweden and China. He also works with his wife Donna in their nutrition company called, Isagenix.
About her husband, Donna said, “He just lights up when he performs. He loves making people happy and laughing – and laughter is healing.”
Before leaving, I asked Darrell if he had any advice for aspiring entertainers.
“Don’t let yourself be restricted by what other people think,” he said. “Listen to your inner voice – if you can stop long enough to listen to it”
Darrell is available for parties, shows and special events. You can contact him at email@example.com.