By Terrance Turner
Oct. 25, 2022
Actor and comedian Leslie Jordan has died. He was 67.
Jordan reportedly suffered a medical emergency while driving in Hollywood and crashed his BMW into the side of a building this morning, per Variety. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
David Shaul of the BRS/Gage Talent Agency, which represented him, confirmed the death. “The world is definitely a much darker place today without the love and light of Leslie Jordan,” Shaul said. “Not only was he a mega talent and joy to work with, but he provided an emotional sanctuary to the nation at one of its most difficult times. What he lacked in height he made up for in generosity and greatness as a son, brother, artist, comedian, partner, and human being. Knowing that he has left the world at the height of both his professional and personal life is the only solace one can have today.”
Jordan was born on April 29, 1955 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His parents were young. “My mother had me at 19. My dad was 23. It just amazes me. But they were just kids who had kids really early and we never stopped,” he told the New York Times in 2020.
He was one of three children (with twin sisters) born to a career Army man. His father was a major in the Army Reserves. “But anyway, his plane went down when I was 11. So it’s always just been Mama and the twins and me and we’re very, very, very close. The twins are real close,” he said.
Jordan grew up Southern Baptist. “I really wanted to be a really good Christian,” he told PhillyMag. “I was baptized fourteen times. Every time the preacher would say, Come forward, sinners,’ I’d say ‘Oooh, I was out in the woods with that boy, I better go forward.’ My mother thought I was being dramatic.” But it wasn’t an act. “I was messing around with boys in the woods and everywhere.”
Jordan came out to his mother at twelve. Her response was unexpected. “I thought she might pull her Bible out, I wasn’t sure,” he continued. “And she said, ‘You know son. I think that you probably just need to lead a quiet life, otherwise you’ll be subject to ridicule and I could not bear that.”
But Leslie Jordan was anything but quiet. “I was a very gregarious, outgoing kid.”
After high school, he moved to Atlanta, which he referred to as “like the San Francisco of the East Coast.” He took up horseback riding. Jordan began exercising horses, training to be a jockey, from ages 22 to 27. “And then when I was about 27 or 28, I didn’t see that continuing and I thought, ‘I’m going to go back to school.’ I went back to school for journalism and the first day everybody said, “Take that Intro to Theater class. It’ll get your arts elective out of the way.’
That class at the University of Chattanooga at Tennessee changed his life. “I’ve always been funny, mainly to keep the bullies at bay, but it just hit me like a drug. I was funny,” he told the Times. Jordan changed his major to theater and studied to be an actor. Once he graduated, he took off. “I got that degree and got on a bus, honey. I had $1,200 that mother pinned into my underpants and I had decided New York or L.A. And if I was going to starve, I wanted to starve with a tan. So, I got on a bus to Hollywood in 1982, with my degree in theater, a little suitcase and a dream.”
In Los Angeles, Jordan started to get work in commercials. Then he started landing guest roles on series like Murphy Brown, Night Court, and PeeWee’s Playhouse. In ’92, he landed a recurring role on the police procedural drama Reasonable Doubts. In 1993, he created his first autobiographical stage show, “Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far,” which ran for seven months off-Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse. The play chronicled Jordan’s early life in Chattanooga, Tenn., and featured the actor backed by a gospel choir singing satirical songs about racism and homophobia. At the time of the play’s production, Variety praised Jordan’s “endearing stage presence” and called the show “bittersweet and hilarious.”
Jordan had begun to make a name for himself. But he also began to struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Alcohol was his chief vice. He told People: “I felt it was a lot easier to be gay when I was loaded. My problem was I was a bar drinker. I started getting DUIs. My gosh. And that one year  I got three in a row. They sentenced me to 120 days.”
He served 12 days and at one point he shared his cell with Robert Downey, Jr., with whom he’d later guest-star on Ally McBeal. “I’m partially responsible for his success,” Jordan jokes. Jordan told his sisters to tell their mother he was in rehab. “She told me, ‘It’s real loud there at Betty Ford.'” Eventually, she learned the truth. His mother was scared for him, he said. And so was he.
“The hardest thing that I ever did was getting sober, but I was so scared to go back to jail,” he added. “I was so scared.”
Jordan joined a twelve step program and stayed sober. And he kept getting work. In 2002, he landed a recurring role as Karen’s acerbic nemesis Beverley Leslie on the sitcom Will & Grace. For his performance, Jordan won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series.
Jordan also played supporting roles in the films The Help and The United States vs. Billie Holiday. He also had a one-man stage show that he performed frequently, titled, like his first book, “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet.”