Leslie Jordan: Comic Actor and Instagram Star

From a New York Times obit by Neil Genzlinger headlined “Leslie Jordan, Comic Actor and Instagram Star, Dies at 67”:

Leslie Jordan, a comic actor who after a late start in his performing career became a recognizable face from roles on numerous television shows, most notably “Will & Grace,” then achieved even more fame during the pandemic when his quirky homemade videos attracted millions of Instagram followers, died on Monday in a car crash in Hollywood, Calif.

“Not only was he a mega-talent and joy to work with,” Mr. Shaul said of Mr. Jordan by email, “but he provided an emotional sanctuary to the nation at one of its most difficult times.”

That was a reference to Mr. Jordan’s surprising foray into viral videos during the pandemic. Sitting out Covid-19 in Tennessee, near his family, he began posting vignettes on Instagram — simple, amusing moments from his life — and was surprised to find his number of followers balloon into the millions. He had accumulated more than 130 television and film credits, so he hadn’t been exactly undiscovered, but the Instagram stardom at age 65 was an unexpected treat.

“I’ve loved attention, wanted it my whole career,” he told The New York Times in 2020, “and I’ve never gotten this kind of attention.”

He also found that he had become a sort of de facto comforter to those fans.

“What I love, though,” he said, “are people that pull me aside and say: ‘Listen, I don’t want to bother you, but I’ve had a rough go. I’ve been locked down. I’ve got kids, and I looked forward to your posts and you really, really helped me through this tough time.’ When people tell you things like that, you realize comedy is important.”

Comedy came easily to Mr. Jordan, though it took him a while to find his way to a performing career. At under five feet tall, he was small enough that in his 20s he made a stab at becoming a jockey. But in his later 20s he gave up that idea, earned a theater degree and in 1982 took a bus to Hollywood.

It was a difficult period for a gay actor like Mr. Jordan to find work, but he began getting jobs, first in commercials.

“I was like Flo,” he said in the 2020 interview, a reference to the Progressive Insurance pitchwoman. “People would recognize me. I was the PIP Printing guy. I was the elevator operator to Hamburger Hell for Taco Bell, where you went if you didn’t eat tacos.”

He began to get TV roles in 1986 — guests spots on “The Fall Guy,” “Murphy Brown,” “Newhart” and others, then recurring roles on “The People Next Door,” “Top of the Heap,” “Reasonable Doubts,” “Hearts Afire” and more.

He made a particular impression on the sitcom “Will & Grace,” about the friendship between a gay lawyer and a straight interior designer sharing a New York City apartment. Mr. Jordan played the tart-tongued socialite Beverley Leslie, appearing both in the original series beginning in 2001 and in the recent reboot.

In 2006, he won an Emmy for the role, for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series.

Leslie Allen Jordan was born on April 29, 1955, in Memphis to Allen and Peggy Ann Jordan and was raised in Chattanooga, Tenn. His Southern drawl was as distinctive a part of his résumé as his height.

Mr. Jordan said he knew from early in life that he was gay — he liked to say that he went directly from his mother’s womb into her high heels and had been “on the prance ever since.”

The household was conservative, and his father, who was in the Army and died in a plane crash when Leslie was 11, was concerned enough about Leslie’s effeminate qualities to send his son to an all-boys summer camp one year. As Mr. Jordan told the story to The Times in 2020, at the camp’s parents day, awards were handed out, with the moms and dads looking on.

“So here’s one for the best archer, here’s for the best horseback rider, here’s for the best swim person,” he said, “and I didn’t win anything. And my mother said my dad was just sinking lower and lower.”

But the staff eventually brought out a trophy, presented it to Leslie, and someone announced: “This is for the best all-around camper. We have this kid who wasn’t actually the best at anything, but boy, he sure did make us laugh.”

He loved horses but realized he wasn’t suited to be a jockey.

“People think it’s size, or something,” he told The Telegraph of Britain in 2021. “It has nothing to do with that. You have to weigh about 104 pounds, and honey, my ass alone weighs 104.”

When he decided to try showbiz, he said, “I had $1,200 that mother pinned into my underpants,” and he had to decide which direction to go from Tennessee, to New York or Hollywood.

“If I was going to starve, I wanted to starve with a tan,” he said. He headed west.

As he wrote in his book “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet” (2008), he knew that being gay might not help his prospects in Hollywood.

“I decided I was going to make a real effort to ‘butch it up’ and hide any signs that I was a Big Homo,” he wrote. “The funny thing is, I am, without a doubt, the gayest man I know.”

Once he began landing roles, they came quickly, but Mr. Jordan also had substance abuse problems.

“I tell people: If you want to get sober, try 27 days in the L.A. men’s county jail,” he told The Guardian in 2021. At 42, he kicked his addictions to alcohol and crystal meth.

Information on his survivors was not immediately available.

Most of Mr. Jordan’s work was in television, but he also took the occasional film role, including in “The Help” (2011). He also had a one-man stage show that he performed frequently, titled, like his first book, “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet.” It was an autobiographical collection of stories.

“I am a high school cheerleader stuck in a 55-year-old man’s body,” he confessed in one memorable line. “If you were to cut me open, Hannah Montana would jump out.”

David Rooney reviewed it for The Times when the show was presented in New York in 2010.

“Many gay rites-of-passage stories are echoed here: hostile small-town environment (Chattanooga, Tenn.); rigidly masculine father; humor as armor against bullies; unrequited loves; drug and alcohol dependency; internal homophobia; weakness for rough trade,” Mr. Rooney wrote. “But Mr. Jordan’s candor gives them a fresh spin.”

In recent years Mr. Jordan was much in demand, with recurring roles in the TV series “American Horror Story,” “Call Me Kat,” “The Cool Kids” and “Living the Dream.” In 2021 he published another book, “How Y’All Doing? Misadventures and Mischief From a Life Well Lived.”

Neil Genzlinger is a writer for the Times Obituaries desk. Previously he was a television, film and theater critic.

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