Leslie Jordan, beloved Emmy-winning actor, dies aged 67

Leslie Jordan has died at the age of 67
Leslie Jordan has died at the age of 67   -   Copyright  Damian Dovarganes/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
By David Mouriquand

Leslie Jordan, the Emmy-winning actor, writer and singer best known for his roles in Will & Grace, American Horror Story and Hearts Afire, has died. He was 67.

Jordan was driving in Hollywood Monday morning and crashed into the side of a building. It was suspected he suffered some sort of medical emergency.

“The world is definitely a much darker place today without the love and light of Leslie Jordan. Not only was he a mega talent and joy to work with, but he provided an emotional sanctuary to the nation at one of its most difficult times,” a representative for Jordan said in a statement.

Jordan was a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he grew up Southern Baptist. He moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and began acting.

He was told his 4-foot-11 stature and accent would hold him back, but proved the naysaysers wrong. His big break came playing the role of a hapless ex-con in a 1989 episode of Murphy Brown.

“When that episode aired, my agent called the next day and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. The phone is ringing off the hook.’”

The veteran actor’s film and TV credits included Ally McBeal, Star Trek: Voyager, The Cool Kids, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, The Help, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and Call Me Kat, which is currently airing its third season on Fox. According to Variety, production on Season 3 of the show will pause following his death. He had completed work on nine episodes.

Chris Carlson/AP2006
Leslie Jordan winning his Emmy in 2005 for his part as Beverly Leslie in Will & GraceChris Carlson/AP2006

The actor won an outstanding guest actor Emmy in 2005 for his part as Beverly Leslie in Will & Grace, and he played various roles in three seasons of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story series.

Stars of Will & Grace mourned his loss.

“My heart is broken,” Sean Hayes tweeted. “Everyone who ever met him, loved him. There will never be anyone like him. A unique talent with an enormous, caring heart. You will be missed, my dear friend.”

“Crushed to learn about the loss of @thelesliejordan, the funniest & flirtiest southern gent I’ve ever known,” tweeted Eric McCormack. “The joy and laughter he brought to every one of his #WillandGrace episodes was palpable.”

The loss of an LGTBQ icon

Jordan reportedly came out as gay to his mother aged 12 in the deeply conservative US state of Tennessee. 

"I told my mother I thought something was up. I didn't even know the word 'gay,'" he told People magazine last year.

"She didn't pull her Bible out, which I thought she would. She said, 'I'm just really afraid that if you choose this path, you'll be ridiculed,'" he recalled, adding that she told him to "'just live your life quietly.' I didn't follow her advice on that one."

In a 2014 interview with Philadelphia magazine, Jordan was asked how he related to his role in the 2013 film Southern Baptist Sissies, which explores growing up gay while being raised in a conservative Baptist church.

“I really wanted to be a really good Christian, like some of the boys in the movie. I was baptized 14 times,” Jordan said. “Every time the preacher would say, ‘Come forward, sinners!,’ I’d say ‘Oooh, I was out in the woods with that boy, I better go forward.’ My mother thought I was being dramatic. She’d say, ‘Leslie, you’re already saved,’ and I’d say, 'Well, I don’t think it took.'”

The chief executive of GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy group, lauded Jordan as a talented entertainer who “charmed audiences for decades with heartfelt characters on-screen and passionate LGBTQ advocacy off-screen.”

Jordan was intent on helping to increase LGBTQ visibility in his native South and served as grand marshal for the Nashville AIDS Walk last year, Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and CEO, said in a statement.

Jordan received GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics’ Timeless Star award in 2021. He appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race as a guest judge in 2013, and again in 2022 as a guest director.

RuPaul's Drag Race - the show on which Jordan starred as a guest judge - wrote on Twitter: "Rest in peace, Leslie Jordan. Thank you for the countless laughs and for sharing your spirit with us all."

An unexpected social media hit

In 2020, Jordan became a social media phenomenon.

He earned an unexpected new following in 2021 when the longtime Los Angeles resident area spent time during the pandemic lockdown near family in his hometown. He broke the sameness by posting daily videos of himself on Instagram.

Many of Jordan’s videos included him asking “How ya’ll doin?” and some included stories about Hollywood or his childhood growing up with identical twin sisters and their “mama,” as he called her. Other times he did silly bits like complete an indoor obstacle course.

“Someone called from California and said, ’Oh, honey, you’ve gone viral.’ And I said, ’No, no, I don’t have COVID. I’m just in Tennessee,” said Jordan. 

Celebrities including Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Alba and Anderson Cooper, along with brands such as Reebok and Lululemon, would post comments.

Soon he became fixated with the number of views and followers he had, because there wasn’t much else going on.

By the time of his death, he amassed 5.8 million followers on Instagram and another 2.3 million on TikTok.

“For a while there, it was like obsessive. And I thought, ’This is ridiculous. Stop, stop, stop.′ You know, it almost became, ’If it doesn’t happen on Instagram, it didn’t happen.’ And I thought, ‘You’re 65, first of all. You’re not some teenage girl.’”

The spotlight led to new opportunities. 

Earlier this month he released a gospel album called “Company’s Comin’” featuring Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Eddie Vedder and Tanya Tucker. He wrote a new book, 'How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived.'

It was Jordan’s second book, following his 2008 memoir, 'My Trip Down the Pink Carpet,' a personal take on Hollywood, fame, addiction, gay culture and learning to love oneself.

Additional sources • AP, Variety