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Leslie Jordan – Pink Carpet Story

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

Leslie Jordan

Leslie Jordan

Pink Carpet Story

by Ronald Sklar

Emmy-award-winning actor Leslie Jordan is perhaps best known as Karen’s arch nemesis, Beverley Leslie, on Will and Grace. However, his association with that groundbreaking series only fortified his own true Hollywood story.

He had been “in” as an out actor since he got off the bus in Hollywood from the Tennessee hills in 1982. These days, it’s difficult to imagine how brave a career move that was, but Jordan always insisted on being himself.  In fact, he worked it into a career that expanded beyond a quarter century.

“I’ve been a gay actor since I fell out of the womb and landed in my mother’s high heels,” he says from his home in LA. “When [casting directors] wanted a gay character, they used to say ‘nebbish. Or they would say ‘a little fey’ or ‘effete.’ They would never say they want a ‘homosexual.’ So, I would play a mama’s boy a lot.”

In fact, he became the go-to effete mama’s boy, with that distinctive Tennessee twang, on almost every show in need of one, from Murphy Brown to Lois and Clark to Ugly Betty. It’s not that Jordan can’t play beyond that. His comic mind and timing are brilliant. But his “mama’s boy” character is what butters his bread.

In fact, in real life, he is very close to his mama. A church-going Southern woman, she has had quite a time of dealing not only with her son’s fame and acclaim, but his sexual orientation as well.

Leslie Jordan

He says, “I made this realization that if I’m going to ask my mom to accept me exactly as I am, I am going to have to allow her the same. My mother is of another generation. She will never be Betty DeGeneres. You will never find my mother marching in a gay pride parade. She will probably go to her grave probably a little ashamed that she had a son who is a homosexual. But she’s learning. She is doing the best she can with the life she has to see with. She’s a very private woman. She goes to church every Sunday. Somebody in her Sunday school class got a hold of Sordid Lives [Jordan’s cult-fave film], where I am in full drag. My mother said, ‘I can’t go to Sunday school. You being fifty-years old in that getup.'”

It’s all in his out-and-about memoir (to be released on June 3rd), called My Trip Down the Pink Carpet (Simon and Schuster). In it, Jordan looks back at a life and career that was – and still is – both courageous and outrageous.

He’s also currently touring the country with his popular one-man show of the same name. As well, he will also star in a prequel to Sordid Lives (premiering in July on Logo).

“I mean, she works hard for the money,” he says of his upcoming location-packed tour. “I am getting on that bus on May 17th and ending in P-Town [Provincetown, Rhode Island] on August 11th.”

Though most familiar to television audiences, Jordan is acclaimed on stage, winning the Ovation Award, The Garland Award and The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his portrayal of “Preston Leroy,” the chatty barfly in Del Shores’ hit play, Southern Baptist Sissies.

He says, “I’ve learned a long time ago that film is a director’s medium, television is a writer’s medium and stage is an actor’s medium. I am so spoiled now by having this one-man show. I got a standing ovation in New York. I was told, ‘you are to the gays what Jackie Mason is to the Jews.’ And these were theater-savvy people.”

As familiar he is to the theater-savvy, he is also all-too-familiar with the club-hopping lifestyle but has been clean and sober for a decade (including free of his crystal-meth addiction).

“I took my last drink October 20, 1997,” he says of his decade-plus of sobriety. “I spent so much time thinking, I want to be Madonna. I want to be rich and famous and then it’s going to be good and my life is going to work. Then things happen and you get a tiny bit of fame and you wonder, why isn’t it like that?”

Leslie Jordan

You would think that Jordan’s life would be exactly like that, considering the long résumé he honed and polished due to the admiration of Hollywood’s A list. This includes a memorable stint on the ’90s CBS series Hearts Afire, with John Ritter and Billy Bob Thornton.

“I was hired just to do a guest part,” he says, “and they loved the character so much that [producer Linda Bloodsworth Thomason] offered me a series regular deal the next week. Of course, it was with Billy Bob Thornton before Sling Blade. And adorable John Ritter. I always judge famous people by how they treat my family. My mother and my sisters would come to the set and John would just fall all over himself and make them feel at home. He is a national treasure.

“At his big memorial service at the El Capitan theater down in Hollywood, he was a big USC fan, and the entire USC marching band came marching down the aisles, to bring him onto greener pastures. And I’m telling you, there was not a dry eye in the house. And then everybody went to the bowling alley across the street, and we had a big wake. Everybody in Hollywood was there. You just can’t say enough about him. The nicest guy.”

His one-time guest stint on Hearts Afire stretched into a three-year gig, but not every project was all that.

“I once did a series with George Clooney a hundred million years ago, called Bodies of Evidence,” he says. “And we sat down and compared the number of failed pilots we each had. He had twelve over the years. And he goes all the way back to The Facts of Life. And I have about fifteen. So, I’m sort of used to it.”

Still, things are moving gaily forward for the actor and writer, and this year proves to be a major milestone.

“I am at a point in my career where I am along for the ride,” he says. “I’m just part of the journey now. I’m so content within. I am so close to my authentic self. I am in my prime right now.”

Hopefully for us, that prime will continue to translate into prime time.

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: April 28, 2008. 

Photo Credits:#1 ©2008. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.#2 ©2008. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.#3 ©2008. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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