america's sweetheart

5 times Leslie Jordan won our hearts

 

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Despite being a well-known face on film and TV for the past three decades or more, Leslie Jordan has never had a higher profile.

The 67-year-old’s fame received an unexpected boost during the first year of the pandemic in 2020. A relative newcomer to social media, Jordan tackled the boredom of being in lockdown with his mother in Chattanooga by posting videos to Instagram. Many went viral, and he now has over 5.7 million followers.

He’s used that attention to good effect. When bootleggers began to slap some of his sayings on t-shirts and started selling them, he decided to make his own shirt line and sell them to benefit GSLEN, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ youth.

Jordan has talked openly in his past problems with alcohol and drugs. It resulted in him being sentenced to 120 days in jail in 1997. He served 12 days before being released and has been sober ever since.

Last year, he spoke at a conference of the National Association for Drug Court Professionals, a charity that develops strategies within the judicial system that empower people to change their lives. Posting a clip to Facebook, he said, “We all make mistakes and could use a second chance in life.”

As a gay man of a certain generation, Jordan lived through the early days of the AIDS crisis. He has frequently shown support for several HIV-related nonprofits. He drew upon the experience of being on the gay scene in the 1980s to help get himself, and his followers, through the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We figured out as a community of gay people, we have to take care of our own,” he remembered to the Advocate. “I was there when APLA was started in somebody’s living room. Project Angel Food was started at the church at Fairfax and Fountain.”

“What we came out of that as a community was, we were kinder to each other. I’m hoping that the whole world, having gone through something like this, is going to come out of all of this kinder.”

Perhaps Jordan’s greatest advocacy is simply his visibility, performances and general loveability. He recently spoke to Reuters about the groundbreaking power of Will & Grace, which premiered in 1998.

Jordan had a recurring role and said that at the start of the run, straight-identifying men would come up to him and say their wives or girlfriends were fans. However, the show’s appeal soon went beyond that.

“By the end of the run, construction workers out on the street were hollering, ‘I love you on that show,'” Jordan recalled, before concluding. “We’ve made some progress.”

It’s that likeability and presence in America’s living rooms that makes Jordan someone of whom we should all be proud. Since Will & Grace,  he has enjoyed recurring roles on American Horror Story and most recently Call Me Kat (renewed this week for a third season) He’s enjoying fame later in life, both as an actor and by being his authentic, honest self.

Here are a 5 reminders of what makes Leslie Jordan such a sweetheart…

1. When he turned fitness instructor

 

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Jordan helped alleviate everyone’s pandemic boredom with his own unique workout using a back scratcher, drawing on some memories from his childhood. It was one of his earliest, unexpected viral hits, even if he was at first oblivious.

“A friend called and said, ‘You’ve gone viral’,” he told Reuters afterward. “And I said, ‘I’m fine, I don’t have COVID. And he said, ‘No, you’re internet viral.'”

2. When he revealed what his mom said when he came out

 

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Raised as a Southern Baptist, Jordan has spoken before about how challenging that was for him as a young gay kid. His father died in an airplane crash when young Leslie was 11, and he and his sisters were then raised solely by his mother, Peggy Ann.

A couple of months ago, he revealed his mom’s reaction when he first told her he liked boys.

“When I was about 12, I told her. I confided in her. She was my best friend. I told her I thought I was gay,” he recalled.

“She thought on it, and I thought she might pull her Bible out, I wasn’t sure. 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.”

Related: Leslie Jordan reveals what his mom said when he came out, aged 12

3. The early thirst pics

 

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Jordan prompted a huge reaction when he posted a couple of throwback photos from earlier in his career. The one above was taken in December 1977 in New York’s infamous Chelsea Hotel.

“They used to call me Sweet n’ Low on the streets back then. Me, wasted at 22 years old in 1977 — and, I am not proud of it. I love that some folks think I look like my hero, Robin Williams and, even Paul Rudd.”

He also shared another pic, this time from Miami in 1980. Many were amazed at what a hairy-chested hunk he was back then.

Related: Do you recognize this beloved, gay actor?

 

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4. Calling out T.I on his homophobia

 

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Last summer, rapper DaBaby made headlines with his offensive comments to a festival audience about gay men and AIDS. One of those to leap to his defense was rapper T.I., who accused the LGBTQ community of bullying his friend.

Jordan felt moved to speak out.

“He said some very homophobic things,” Jordan said. “He needs to quit talking like that. What would your mama think, you out there talking like that, T.I.?”

T.I. listened and thanked Jordan for his comments, and reposted Jordan’s video to his own 14 million followers, saying he’d welcome sitting down with Jordan to discuss the issues further.

“I appreciate the way you expressed your point of view without being offensive or negative,” said T.I. “I truly believe this is the way we evolve and progress as a society.”

5. Lovin’ his momma

 

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Despite that heartbreaking moment when he first came out to her, Jordan obviously has a close and special relationship with his momma. He moved back to Tennessee during the early months of the pandemic to be close to her.

A recent posting for Mother’s Day melted hearts.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mama,” he wrote. “I turned out ‘just a little short’ of perfect. I want to wish all the mama’s a Happy Mothers’ Day — the hardest job on earth. And, for anyone who lost their mother, our hearts are with you and I will share mine.”

“Love. Light. Leslie.”

Pride50Welcome to Queerty’s Pride50. We’re celebrating the members from our community who are responsible for some of the most inspiring and extraordinary moments for LGBTQ people over the last year. See all the honorees