LOS ANGELES (AP) — Leslie Jordan, the actor whose wry Southern accent and versatility made him a standout comedy and drama actor on television shows like “Will & Grace” and “American Horror Story,” has died. The Emmy winner, whose videos made him a social media star during the pandemic, was 67 years old.
“The world is definitely a much darker place today without the love and light of Leslie Jordan. Not only was he a tremendous talent and a pleasure to work with, but he also provided an emotional sanctuary to the nation during one of his most difficult times,” a representative for Jordan said in a statement Monday.
A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who won an Outstanding Guest Actor Emmy Award in 2005 for her role as Beverly Leslie on “Will & Grace,” had a recurring role on the Mayim Bialik comedy “Call Me Kat” and starred in the comedy ” The Cool Kids.”
Jordan’s other eclectic credits include “Hearts Afire,” “Boston Legal,” “Fantasy Island” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” He played various roles in the series “American Horror Story”.
Production on Fox’s “Call Me Kat” was put on hold following Jordan’s death. She had completed the work in nine episodes.
He died Monday in a car accident in the Hollywood area, according to reports from celebrity website TMZ and the Los Angeles Times, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.
The “Will & Grace” stars mourned his loss.
“My heart is broken,” Sean Hayes tweeted. “Everyone who ever knew him loved him. There will never be anyone like him. A unique talent with a huge and supportive heart. We will miss you, my dear friend.”
“Crushed to learn of the loss of @thelesliejordan, the funniest, most flirty southern gentleman I’ve ever met,” tweeted Eric McCormack. “The joy and laughter he brought to each of his #WillandGrace episodes was palpable.”
The executive director of GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy group, praised Jordan as a talented artist who “charmed audiences for decades with candid characters onscreen and passionate LGBTQ advocacy offscreen.”
Jordan intended to help 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 gained an unexpected new following in 2021 when the former Los Angeles resident spent time during the pandemic lockdown near his family in his hometown. He broke the monotony by posting daily videos of himself on Instagram.
Many of Jordan’s videos included him asking “How’s it going?” and some included stories about Hollywood or his childhood growing up with identical twin sisters and her “mom,” as he called her. He other times he did silly things 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,” Jordan said. Celebrities like Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Alba, and Anderson Cooper, along with brands like Reebok and Lululemon, posted comments.
He soon became obsessed with the number of views and followers he had, because not much else was happening. At the time of his death, he had 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 years old, first of all. You’re not a teenager.’”
The spotlight led to new opportunities. Earlier this month, she released a gospel album called “Company’s Comin'” with Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Eddie Vedder and Tanya Tucker. She wrote a new book, “How’s It Going?: Misadventures and Mischief of 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 yourself.
“That kind of dealing with all the angst and growing up gay in the Baptist Church and the, the, the, the. And this one, I just wanted to tell stories,” she told The Associated Press in 2021. Among the anecdotes: working with Lady Gaga on “American Horror Story”; how meeting Carrie Fisher led Debbie Reynolds to name her mother and the Shetland pony she had as a child named Midnight.
He turned many of his memories and observations of life into stage productions, including off-Broadway performances of his musicalized memoir “Hysterical Blindness” and a 2010 version of his “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet,” a show that alternated between stand-up up comedy and energetic one man show.
Those grieving celebrities included Jackée Harry, Marlee Matlin and Kristen Johnston, who all called Jordan “magical.” Lynda Carter wrote that she “put a smile on the faces of so many, especially with her videos about the pandemic. What a feat keeping us all laughing and connected in such difficult times.”
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 good Christian, like some of the guys in the movie. I got baptized 14 times,” Jordan said. “Every time the preacher said, ‘Go ahead, sinners!’ My mother thought I was being dramatic. She was like, ‘Leslie, you’re saved now,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t think that was necessary.’
In 2007, Jordan spoke about how a role as patron of Alcoholics Anonymous on the CW teen drama “Hidden Palms” reflected his life and included a valuable lesson.
“If there’s one thing kids could get away with, it’s that people using drugs and alcohol are masking something,” Jordan told the AP. “With me, it was my homosexuality. It was easier to be gay when I was high. So I stayed high for 33 years. … I don’t know when it went from recreational to medicinal, but that’s the line you cross where I needed a drink to get to a party, to be fun, to be me.”
The actor changed course after a drunk driving incident in December 1997.
“I stayed sober, I didn’t take an aspirin. Any. And I worked my (expletive) and my career started to flourish.”
Jordan first arrived in Los Angeles in 1982 on a Trailways bus “with a dream and $1,200 worth of underpants,” hoping to make it as an actor. He was told that his 4-foot-11 height and accent would stop him, but he proved the naysayers 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 it. The phone won’t stop ringing.’”
— Kennedy reported from New York. Alicia Rancilio in New York also contributed to this report.
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