love. light. leslie.

9 perfect little nuggets of wisdom from the late, great Leslie Jordan

Leslie Jordan
Leslie Jordan (Photo: Shutterstock)

This week, the world mourns the loss of Leslie Jordan, beloved entertainer, late-in-life social media star, and undeniable gay icon.

For the past 35 years, Jordan’s been a presence on our screens, big and small. While he made a habit of stealing scenes in countless film and television roles—most notably on Will & Grace, which won him an Emmy in 2006—no part could ever outshine the ebullient star he was in in his day-to-day life.

This became especially clear in the early days of the pandemic. In 2020, from the comfort of his mother’s home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jordan began posting regular videos to Instagram to update us on the minutiae of life in lockdown, to share sweet anecdotes—and maybe even a dance move or two. Frequently short and silly (“Daddy! Daddy, watch me twirl!“), the videos nevertheless offered glimpses into his sparkling mind, and made us all feel less alone.

They also turned Jordan into the household named he always deserved to be. As the world slowly opened up again and Jordan got back to work (more booked than ever), he continued updating his millions of followers (affectionately dubbed “hunker-downers”) on his daily musings—and we’re all the better for it. Once a hunker-downer, always a hunker-downer.

In a tribute to the charming talent that was, let’s take a look back at some of the best nuggets of wisdom Jordan’s gifted us with over the past few years.

Leslie Jordan on living out loud


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Jordan had a very close relationship with his dear, sweet mother, Peggy Ann, who sadly passed this past May. But she used to worry about him quite a bit. Earlier this year, Jordan revealed what she said when he first came out to her at 12 years old:

“She was my best friend. I told her I thought I was gay. I didn’t know that word. I think I used ‘queer’ or… I just knew that the boys at school had been teasing me a little bit. 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.'”

“So, here I am living a quiet life, mama!,” he added with a laugh.

Related: Leslie Jordan mourns his beloved mom, Peggy Ann

…on fame


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Jordan no doubt had a very unique view of fame, having worked most of his life in relative obscurity only to become an internet sensation in his 60s. He’s said previously that, had this kind of success come earlier in his life, he’d have “just messed it up.” But, with age came wisdom and perspective. Here’s what he told NME in an interview last year:

“People think I’m an overnight success, but I’ve been doing this for 40 years now. In the past, I’ve had certain levels of fame–especially with Will & Grace–but it’s nothing compared to how it’s been lately. I used to love sitting in Starbucks with my tea and four different newspapers, but I can’t do that now. People come by and ask for a picture, and I’m so gracious that I’m not gonna say no. Everywhere I go now, it’s like a tiny little public appearance, but it’s what I’ve wanted my entire life. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I remember thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to walk into a gay club and have everyone know who you are?’ Well, I couldn’t go near a gay club now – it would be a nightmare!”

…on being an openly gay actor


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Even before the viral success, there’s no denying how major Jordan’s visibility was in the industry as an out gay man. Reflecting on his career with The Guardian, Jordan said it wasn’t always easy, but that he wouldn’t change a thing:

“When you’re in the midst of it, you don’t see it that way–but in retrospect, I think: I was so brave to be so gay so early on.”

Though he’s said he was sometimes asked to either “take it down a notch, butch it up a little,” he remained true to himself. “I think that’s the way the barriers were broken.”

…on supporting small businesses

This one’s short, simple, and incredible funny. Always a sharp wit, one of Jordan’s walks around his beloved WeHo neighborhood inspired him to make this video in support of local small businesses:


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…on the advice Betty White gave him


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Jordan considered Betty White a good friend, and the pair sure had some memorable times together on the set of Boston Legal. A few days after White passed, Jordan took to Instagram to pass along some of the past advice he ever received from her:

“I worked with her many times over the years and, at the end of the day, she’d always, always say this: She’d look at me and say, ‘Now listen, you go straight home!’ And that can be read in many different ways. One, ‘don’t you go to the bar or go hook up—you take care of yourself and stay out of trouble!’ But it could also mean just that: ‘You go straight home and stay out of trouble, take care of yourself.’ So, I’m going to say to each of you, in memory of Betty White: You go straight home!”

…on sobriety and self-acceptance


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Jordan had been proudly sober since 1997, and spoke openly about his past struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. In his 2021 essay collection, How Y’all Doing?, the performer opened up about his journey with sobriety, and how that went hand-in-hand with fulyl embracing his life as a gay man:

“If you’re born homosexual, it’s not a choice…I’m a happy person but when you grow up with a secret and there’s a lot of inner turmoil. I wouldn’t change anything for having gone through that because it’s made me the person I am today. My first five years in AA people would tell me, ‘You know when the miracles really start? About year five,’ and I thought, ‘What?! I’m barely getting through the day and you’re telling me I’ve got to wait five years!’ But it was such an amazing time. I was no spring chicken. I got sober in ’97. To begin a journey like that and my journey into my sobriety was also a journey into my queerdom because there was so much internal homophobia, so much self-hatred. You think why, so I dealt with that. Go to work honey! If it involves going to a hospice and sitting with someone and holding their hand as they’re taking their last breath on Earth but you’ve got to do the work, you just can’t sit there. Happiness is a choice and it’s something you’ve got to work for.”

…on happiness


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Speaking of, happiness was a frequent topic in Jordan’s posts. He certainly had a way of spreading the good vibes in all of his work, through his words and his dance movies:

“We need good vibrations! Happiness is a habit. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is something we have to work toward.”

…on refusing to be silenced

Part of “The Stonewall Generation,” Jordan has frequently shared stories about coming of age during the HIV/AIDS crisis. In a recent “Authentic Voices Of Pride” video from our sister site, LGBTQ Nation, he share what’s he’d learned as an elder member of the queer community:

“When you’re young, you worry so much about what other people think of you… I think that, as you get older, you’re more aware of, ‘You know what, honey, if you don’t like me, that’s your problem.’ You begin to love yourself a little more and know that, ‘what you think of me is none of my business.’”

…on goodbyes

Jordan had a longtime passion for music, which he was delighted to explore in more recent years, like with his 2021 album, Company’s Comin’, a series of country-gospel standards featuring duets with the likes of Dolly Parton, Brandi Carlile, and more.

In a bittersweet final post, he shared a preview of a song he was working on with celebrated country songwriter-producer Danny Myrick—a cover of the popular hymn, “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” The clip stands as a beautiful, hope-filled goodbye from the heartwarming, once-in-generation talent.

“When the trumpets of the lord shall sound and time shall be no more / And the morning breaks eternal bright and fair / When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore / And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”

“Been baptized 13 times just to make sure!,” Jordan added with a smile. “Because I’m gonna be there.”


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RIP Leslie Jordan, you are deeply missed.

Love. Light. Leslie.

Related: 5 times Leslie Jordan won our hearts

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