LESLIE JORDAN – Actor | Comedian | Writer
With a history of bigger than life characters, such as Beverley Leslie in Will & Grace, multiple characters in American Horror Story, and of course, Brother Boy in Sordid Lives, this 4’11” Emmy Award winner kept us laughing through the pandemic and over the years. Leslie Jordan appeared in every form of media – plays, web series, stand up, one-man shows, and his popular cruise appearances. He was a prolific writer in addition to his acting and his autobiographical shows have played off-Broadway and on national tours to critical and audience acclaim. His one-man shows had a distinct charm to them, giving off the sense that he was just telling stories that come to his mind.
In our 2020 cover interview, Leslie spoke about many memorable moments in his life, including his Southern Baptist childhood, the AIDS crisis, a shared jail cell with Robert Downey Jr., drug and alcohol addiction, and his quarantine Instagram stories …. His stories were indeed colorful, his signature drawl adorable, but the person behind the persona surprising. He described his defining moment that started his path to sobriety, “Jail! I went to jail! The last year of my drinking I went to jail five times. It would always start at Marix in West Hollywood. I would always say oh great, happy hour I’ll have a few drinks then go home. Then it would be 2am and I didn’t know how that happened. But I got arrested for the fifth time and was sentenced to 120 days and I did about 15. I got out because they didn’t have any place to put Robert Downey Jr. I’m not making that up! They put him in with me for one night – that’s my big claim to fame. It was Dec 11th, 1997. We worked together years later, on Ally McBeal, and I thought oh God I was in prison with him, I wonder if he’ll remember. He did immediately. That was it right there. I had hit bottom. Some people have an emotional bottom where they’re sitting at home thinking, I can’t do this anymore. Or I’m sick and tired all the time. Not me, honey I had a bottom – a jail cell.
I called my agent and I said, ‘Please come get me I have to work tomorrow.’ I called my friend (actress) Beth Grant, she said just leave him, because you are going to end up dead in a ditch. I said look, I have to do number two and there’s no walls and there’s no paper and you have got to come get me because I’m about to shit my pants. I held it for eight hours; they finally came and got me. That was the worst part. And then I had to go to court for my sentencing. Well, I’m 22 years sober now.”
His Emmy-winning role of Beverley Leslie in Will & Grace was supposed to have been a one-time guest role played by a woman (Joan Collins, no less), but became one of the most loved recurring characters of the show. Leslie told us in 2020, “I remember I had planned a speech in case. But it just flooded out. My only regret was that my win wasn’t at the Emmys, it was the Creative Arts Emmys which was the week before. No one got to see my speech and it was so heartfelt. I said there are two ways to combat homophobia – one was through humor, which I’ve learned, and the second was by putting a face on it.”
Jordan reflected, “These characters on Will & Grace were probably the first gay people that many people in American let in their homes. Characters that we laughed with and loved and there was a lot of progress made. Because I think when it’s all said and done people will look back and say Will & Grace was when the tide turned. Right there. I really do think it’s that important. When I first started working on that show, people would stop me and ask, aren’t you on TV?” ‘I’m on Will & Grace,’ I’d exclaim. And it would be a straight guy and immediately they’d say, my wife watches that or my girlfriend watches that. And by the end of the show’s run, I’d be walking by a construction site and the workers would be yelling, hey, I loved you on that show, you’re funny! I thought, you know, that’s progress right there.”
He was a personal hero, making gays in the entertainment industry a group to contend with. Leslie confided, “I don’t know how to turn it off even if there’s just one other person. I will be talking/performing, but I’m not good at small talk.” That’s why we’ll always love Leslie Jordan. I am sure he is performing for the angels.
Last modified: February 8, 2023