It’s been nearly two weeks since Multnomah County Sheriff’s River Patrol deputies found the body of Michael Watts floating in the Willamette River. A security guard at LGBTQ clubs and a Freddie Mercury impersonator, Watts disappeared from downtown Portland on the night of May 1.
The Portland Police Bureau said Watts was found near the Fremont Bridge on Tuesday, May 11. Police confirmed his identity with his family before issuing a press release on the evening of Thursday, May 13.
At the time of Watts’ disappearance, friends say he was visiting Portland from Eugene, where he worked as a security supervisor at a hospital. When he lived in Portland, Watts was known for dancing at Stag PDX and CC Slaughters. Friends remembered his Freddie Mercury persona, dubbed “Freddie Hollywood,” as one of the best they’d ever seen.
In the weeks that followed Watts’ disappearance, friends and family posted fliers around downtown, offering a $10,000 reward for information that could lead to finding him.
“He was my best friend,” said Kourtney Steel, who formerly worked security with Watts. “But how many people have said that since he disappeared? That speaks to the character of this man. He drove me all the way to Montana once. I was lonely and sad, and he drove me 12 hours so I could see my family.”
When Steel heard that Watts was missing, she dropped everything to fly in from Las Vegas, where she now lives, to look for him. “I know he would be kicking down doors trying to find me,” Steel said.
Friends remembered Watts at a memorial on May 15, just two days shy of his 38th birthday. They spoke of Watts as a solid and reliable person who went out of his way to support friends.
“He had been trying to get me go-go dancing,” said Bruce Bear, another former security co-worker. “I would say, ‘Nobody wants to see that,’ and he would say, ‘Oh yes they do!’ He just knocked that self-doubt down and replaced it with positive affirmations. Even with more serious things. Like, once I worried that I wasn’t good at security, and he hit me with 10 reasons why I was excellent—just right off the top of his head.”
The circumstances of Watts’ death remain unknown at this time, and stories surrounding his disappearance conflict. For instance, NBC’s Dateline initially reported that Watts was set to perform that night, but the report doesn’t match what was possible under local COVID restrictions at that time.
“I know he didn’t put himself in that river,” Bear said. “He was making plans for the future. Performances he wanted to do when venues opened back up. Nursing school.”
PPB stated in its release that “the cause and manner of death are not yet determined. The investigation is continuing.” Police haven’t released any updates since May 13 but say that a toxicology screening process takes 12 to 16 weeks to complete.
Those with information about Watts, or who may have seen him on the night of his disappearance, are asked to email email@example.com.