Leslie Jordan’s Early Life
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 29, 1955, Leslie Jordan’s career spanned across theater, film and television. The Emmy-winning actor made a name for himself with his funnyman bravado, LGBTQ+ activism and, later in life, his beloved social media presence and country music renaissance.
Leslie Jordan’s Hollywood Start
Soon after Jordan moved to Los Angeles in the ’80s, he began showing face on stage and on television. He appeared on shows like Night Court and Murphy Brown and was cast as Whip in the made-for-TV movie The Road Raiders. Jordan nabbed his first major film role playing Murray in the 1990 comedy Ski Patrol.
The charming Southerner joined the cast of CBS’s political satire series Hearts Afire during its second season in 1993. He played newspaper printer Lonnie Garr until the show ended in 1995.
Leslie Jordan in ‘Ellen’
Though he didn’t share the screen with DeGeneres, Jordan did guest star in one episode of her ’90s sitcom.
In 2021, the two reunited on her talk show and reminisced about Jordan’s amusing one-time role as a studio executive. “I thought, Oh wow. I get to be on this gay sitcom,” recalled the actor, noting that his appearance came shortly after DeGeneres came out. “I get the script, and I’m playing a straight guy.”
He cheekily continued: “And I open my mouth and 50 yards of purple chiffon come out.”
Leslie Jordan in ‘Will & Grace’
Jordan’s legacy is forever tied to his performance on the NBC television show Will & Grace. He played Beverly Leslie, the boisterous nemesis of Karen Walker (Megan Mullally). Jordan joined the cast in 2001, during its second season.
Leslie Jordan’s Support for HIV/AIDS Awareness
Throughout his career, Jordan focused much of his philanthropic efforts on AIDS and HIV outreach. He attended charity events like the 2002 Stroll-A-Thon benefiting families affected by the disease, where he was joined by actor Anthony Heald and fitness guru Tony Horton.
In a HuffPost article from 2017, he shared a message for younger generations that want to be involved in the conversation today.
“I was of the generation that marched in the street, with hippies and ACT-UP and this and that…fine, march until the cows come home. It will get some interest in your cause,” said Jordan, who experienced firsthand the heartbreak and fear during the ’80s health crisis. “But the only real change is from within. You’ve got to get involved and you have to vote!”
Leslie Jordan’s Substance Abuse Recovery Outreach
When it came to his sobriety journey, Jordan was an open book. He attended the annual benefit luncheon for Friendly House — an LA-based women’s addiction treatment center — several times, and regularly spoke about his personal experiences with substance abuse.
In 2021, Jordan told PEOPLE that before he got sober, he relied on alcohol to feel comfortable being himself. “I felt it was a lot easier to be gay when I was loaded. My problem was I was a bar drinker. I started getting DUIs.”
Eventually, the actor started rehab, and the 12-step program helped him stay sober for the rest of his life.
Leslie Jordan’s Emmy Win
Jordan’s portrayal of Beverly Leslie on Will & Grace won critical acclaim in 2006, when he took home the Emmy for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series.
Leslie Jordan’s Autobiography
In 2008, Jordan published My Trip Down The Pink Carpet, an autobiography detailing his journey from Chattanooga to Hollywood. The book tells of his experience growing up gay in a conservative, Southern family, and the life-changing decision he made to board a Greyhound bus to L.A. and begin his career.
Several of Jordan’s celebrity friends attended his book launch party in Los Angeles, including Lily Tomlin, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Leeza Gibbons.
Leslie Jordan’s On-Screen and On-Stage Hit
When Jordan first starred as Earl Ingram in Sordid Lives, it was an award-winning play staged in 1996. The show was adapted into a film in 2000, and then again revived as a television show in 2008. Jordan starred in the same role in all three productions. Several cast members from the film joined the spin-off series, including actresses Rue McClanahan, Caroline Rhea and Olivia Newton-John.
Leslie Jordan’s Autobiography Comes to Life
Just a couple of years after its publication, My Trip Down The Pink Carpet became an Off-Broadway production performed in New York City. The play’s limited run was presented by Lily Tomlin and her wife, Jane Wagner.
Leslie Jordan in ‘The Help’
In 2011, Jordan played Mr. Blackly, the editor-in-chief of the fictional newspaper The Jackson Journal, in The Help. He shared the screen with a star-studded cast featuring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone.
Leslie Jordan’s Guest Roles in the 2010s
Jordan served as a guest star on several major television series throughout his career, including Baby Daddy, Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, among others. He appeared as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2013.
Leslie Jordan on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’
In 2014, Jordan entered the Celebrity Big Brother house for the 14th installment of the United Kingdom’s series. He shared the season with stars like Stephanie Pratt and Gary Busey. However, he didn’t last long on the reality show — on day 12, he became the second housemate to be evicted.
Leslie Jordan on ‘American Horror Story’
Jordan appeared in the third, sixth and ninth season of FX’s American Horror Story. In American Horror Story: Roanoke, he shared the set with another star featured in season 6: Lady Gaga.
“The first day, I showed up and there was a girl standing there and they said, ‘Leslie, have you met Stefani?’ ” said the actor, recalling how he failed to recognize the singer when they first met. “And I thought she was maybe an extra. I didn’t know who she was.”
Leslie Jordan’s Return to ‘Will & Grace’
In 2017, Jordan reprised his Emmy-winning role as Beverly Leslie in the revival of Will & Grace. He played Karen’s rival in all three of the show’s reunion seasons.
Leslie Jordan on Instagram
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan assumed a new role: he became an Instagram entertainer, posting comical and ridiculous clips of himself throughout 2020. In January 2021, he told PEOPLE that he posted videos twice a day for 80 days. “People knew me from my characters, but I’m amazed that, people discovered me as me. They loved me,” he said. “And they came back.”
Jordan became what The Washington Post called “our feisty quarantine uncle” and amassed more than 5 million followers.
Leslie Jordan on ‘The Masked Singer’
In 2021, The Masked Singer welcomed Jordan as a guest singer during its sixth season. Hidden beneath a soft serve costume, he sang “This Little Light of Mine” on stage.
Leslie Jordan on ‘Call Me Kat’
In the Fox television show Call Me Kat, Jordan played Phil, the head baker at the titular character’s Louisville-based café.
Leslie Jordan’s Country Music Album
In 2021, Jordan released a country music album called Company’s Comin’, which featured a mix of songs and gospel hymns. In conversation with Shania Twain on her Apple Music show, Jordan spoke about his Southern upbringing in a Baptist family.
“I say this for myself, that music was always my savior. I wouldn’t say the music was my religion, but it was a safe zone where I wasn’t judged,” the actor explained. “I could express myself and it was escapism for me as well. Growing up in a family that believed very much that God was going to be there to help you through things and then also having the music, what an inspiring way to grow up.”
Leslie Jordan in Washington, D.C.
The actor attended the 2022 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., on April 30.
That October, the 67-year-old actor died of what was ruled a “sudden cardiac dysfunction” that caused him to crash into a Hollywood building while driving.
“The world is definitely a much darker place today without the love and light of Leslie Jordan,” his agent David Shaul shared in a statement to PEOPLE. “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. What he lacked in height he made up for in generosity and greatness as a son, brother, artist, comedian, partner and human being. Knowing that he has left the world at the height of both his professional and personal life is the only solace one can have today.”