Speaking to the L.A. Times, Leslie Jordan was always good for a sassy one-liner
The late Leslie Jordan was many things to many people: a comedian, a character actor, an amateur musician, an Instagram sensation, a gay icon.
To the Los Angeles Times, which interviewed the beloved entertainer on multiple occasions throughout the years, he was a quote machine always good for a juicy Hollywood anecdote or a charming turn of phrase.
The Tennessee-born performer, known for his roles in “Will & Grace” and “American Horror Story,” died Monday after crashing his BMW into a building at Cahuenga Boulevard and Romaine Street in Hollywood. He was 67.
Here are some of the entertainer’s musings on his personal life and career, as told to The Times in his instantly recognizable voice in interviews dating to 1994.
Actor Leslie Jordan, known for TV roles in ‘Will & Grace’ and ‘American Horror Story,’ died after a car crash in Los Angeles on Monday. He was 67.
On chasing his dreams in L.A.
“I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go, New York or Los Angeles. But I decided that if I was going to starve, it would be with a tan,” Jordan said in April 1994. “I hit town when that ... white-trash-from-the-hills look was in and, boy, did I have that!”
“When I got off the bus in 1982, I had $1,200. I came from Tennessee to L.A., and I had a little bit of money and I had my degree in theater,” Jordan said in April 2021. “I couldn’t pronounce it. I called it ‘THEE-ate-er.’ So I had a list of what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to be in movies and TV, but this was so far off the radar. It’s not like I sit and think, ‘What’s the next big challenge?’ It has just always happened for me. I’ve had a really blessed career. I’m just along for the ride.”
On starting his career as a commercial actor
“I did Aunt Jemima Lite Syrup, I was the Pip boy for years, I started the Del Taco ‘Same time, same place’ bit . . . I was always the bellhop, the busboy, the window washer,” Jordan said in 1994. “I worked left and right until the beautiful people came back.”
“I was the elevator operator that went to Hamburger Hell, where you went if you didn’t eat Taco Bell,” Jordan said in January 2021. “People knew me.”
Leslie Jordan, the actor best known for his work on TV shows including ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Call Me Kat,’ died Monday at 67.
On being a character actor
“I was never going to be Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro, who can disappear into a character — I’m just not that kind of actor,” Jordan said in January 2021. “There’s a lot of me to disappear into. I’m more like a Dolly Parton, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of me.”
On his voice
“I don’t like my voice. At all. Because I’ve got that accent, you know? And I’m not talking about my Southern accent,” Jordan said in April 2021. “If you had any doubt about me, when I open my mouth 50 yards of purple chiffon come out.”
On representing and relating to the LGBTQ+ community
“I think I have a message to that young gay man or that young gay woman out in our hinterland,” Jordan said in November 2004. “They’re wondering, as I wondered, first of all, will they ever find their tribe? ... And secondly, is there a God that loves them?”
“I am, without a doubt, the gayest man I know,” Jordan said in May 2008.
Leslie Jordan’s uplifting stories made him an Instagram star. In August, the actor — who died Monday — said he had recently bought his first piece of property.
On shooting a wild ‘American Horror Story’ scene with Lady Gaga
“She was supposed to straddle me and cut my throat,” Jordan said in January 2021. “You’re just thinking, ‘How did I get in this situation?’”
On becoming Instagram famous during the COVID-19 pandemic
“A friend of mine called from California and said, ‘You have gone viral.’ And I said, ‘No, honey, I’m fine. I don’t have COVID,’” Jordan said in January 2021. “I don’t know how I did it because now I scramble for content. ... Every day, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God! I need to post. What should I come up with?’”
On his popular Instagram duets with Travis Howard
“Travis and I have been friends for years and years, and we took similar journeys through the church,” Jordan said in April 2021. “Mine was because I was gay. I didn’t feel embraced by [it]. How do you embrace something that doesn’t embrace you? It was never ugly. There was never a big ax to grind. I just wandered away, and that was that.
“But I grew up in the church. We went to church every time the doors opened. Travis did too. So we started doing hymns on Sundays. And the response from Instagram was huge: There would be thousands of comments, with people saying, ‘It brings me such comfort.’ Or, ‘I’m an atheist, but I still want to hear this music.’ So I thought, you know what, whether you’re raised Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, whatever, this music, you could draw some comfort from it.”
On singing in choirs as a kid
“I can’t really read sheet music or anything like that, but I sang growing up,” Jordan said in April 2021. “I loved that Rolling Stone said, ‘His voice is capable.’ [Laughs] But you know what? I had no fear. I think that comes from the choir. We were always told, ‘You’re just singing for the Lord. So just sing.’”
On his taste in music
“I have always liked girl singers and girl groups, the Ronettes and all of that,” Jordan said in April 2021.
“I’m into S&M: Streisand and Midler. Oh, and I loved Laura Nyro. I’ve gotten so reclusive about music now, though. I couldn’t name a Billie Eilish song. That’s terrible. I used to keep up. I knew what was on the radio.”
On getting involved in the 2021 sitcom ‘Call Me Kat’
“It took two things. They said, ‘Mayim Bialik’ and ‘a room full of cats in a cat cafe,’ [and] I said, ‘I’m aboard,’” Jordan said in January 2021. “I loved [Bialik] from the moment I saw her in ‘Beaches’ playing a baby Bette Midler.”
At 65, Leslie Jordan is an Instagram star with a new TV show, book and debut album of old hymns featuring Dolly Parton, Brandi Carlile and Eddie Vedder.
On making his 2021 country gospel album
“I said, ‘I want it to be called “Company’s Comin’,”’ and I want it to sound like when I was a kid, my uncle and cousin would grab their banjos and guitars and we would just sit at family reunions and sing,” Jordan said in April 2021. “We had a lot of songs, but it always ended up with the hymns. I’m so glad that you felt that because one of our executive producers, Mike Lotus, said, ‘Why do you talk? You shouldn’t talk when Brandi Carlile is about to sing.’ And I said, ‘Oh, you don’t understand. That’s so part of the church. We would talk out and shout out.’”
On meeting Dolly Parton
“I had wanted to meet Dolly since I first saw her in [the early ‘70s],” Jordan said in April 2021. “I told her when I finally met her that I drove all the way to Sevierville [Parton’s Tennessee hometown] from Chattanooga. I heard she was going to appear in her high school auditorium. She’s been on my wish list to meet, and over the years I’ve gotten friendly with Steve Summers [Parton’s creative director].
“I was in Nashville and he said, ‘Dolly is at a studio very near you if you’d like to come up.’ I couldn’t even breathe. I went over there and she was all dolled up for a Christmas special that she did. And we sat there and even though we were masked and socially distant, we just glommed on to one another. And people said, ‘What’s she like?’ Well, you know exactly what she’s like. You don’t have to meet her to know what she’s like. I just adored her.”
On Monday, Parton was among the many fellow entertainers who paid tribute to Jordan on social media.
“Leslie and I had a special bond, and I think the world felt they had a special bond with him,” she wrote in a statement. “He will be missed by everyone who knew him personally and by everyone who was entertainment by him. Rest in peace lil’ brother.”
On his journey to sobriety and self-acceptance
“All of a sudden, you took away this medicine that I had sort of anesthetized myself with, and I was riddled with internal homophobia,” Jordan said in November 2004. “If you had asked me at 42 years of age, when I got sober, ‘Are you a proud gay man?’ I would say, ‘Honey, I’ve ridden on floats.’ But I was loaded the whole time!”
“My journey into sobriety, but more importantly, my journey into queerdom, was from the time I was 42 ’til now,” Jordan said in January 2021.
“During my 22 years in recovery, we’re required to write a lot about things and do a lot of work,” Jordan said in April 2021. “Happiness is a habit. It’s a choice. It’s something that you have to work for. ... I was baptized 14 times. Every time I’d go up there, the preacher, Brother Baker, would say, ‘I believe I baptized you in the revival this summer.’ I said, ‘I don’t think it took.’ I had so many secrets and so much shame, and all that’s gone now.
After decades in showbiz, the 65-year-old found fame on social media — and has a new TV show and a second book on the way. ‘It’s all gravy,’ he says.
“I had a very wise man in recovery who was my sponsor and he died this year. I said to him, ‘When I go home, my mother sometimes wants me to go to church.’ And he said, ‘Go to church. When you hear something that works for you, garner that. Keep that. But if you go, ‘Oh, please! [when something bothers you], put it under the pew in front of you because that could be the kernel of truth that someone else needs.’ So I’ve left a lot of stuff in the pew in front of me.”
On achieving his dreams
“I’m in actor heaven.”
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