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Actor Leslie Jordan dies at age 67

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Actor and comedian Leslie Jordan has died. He was in a car crash in Hollywood this morning. He was 67. The news is a shock to those who knew him from the sitcom "Will & Grace."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WILL AND GRACE")

LESLIE JORDAN: (As Beverley Leslie) Well, well, well.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: He won an Emmy for that supporting role in 2006. And he kept on working in TV, though he broke through to new audiences during the pandemic with comedic video diaries on Instagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JORDAN: Hello, fellow hunker downers (ph). It's Leslie Allen Jordan reporting for duty.

KELLY: That new fame allowed him to live out a few other dreams, like writing a book and making a gospel album. Last year, our co-host, Ari Shapiro, got to talk with Leslie Jordan about that record called "Company's Comin'."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

So why gospel music?

JORDAN: I grew up in the church, in the Southern Baptist Church. And it's - when you grow up in the church, everything that we did, even socially, was around the church. It was just such a big part of our, you know, lives. And I loved that music, you know? And then whatever axe I had to grind with the church as I got older and realized I was a homosexual and - you know, it's hard to embrace something that doesn't embrace you, so I...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

JORDAN: ...Kind of wandered away. But I - over the years, you know, you get older and you look back and you think, well, you know what? Everybody's doing the best they can with the light they have to see with. I sure, you know, enjoyed the songs, the music of my youth.

SHAPIRO: Is there a song from those Sunday mornings that you remember hearing in the pews when you were a kid that you're doing on this album now?

JORDAN: Almost every single one of them.

SHAPIRO: Really?

JORDAN: You know, every single one of them. The one that really struck home to me, because it was my dad's favorite song, is the one that we got T.J. Osborne to sing. It's called "In The Sweet By And By," which is just an old, old...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

JORDAN: ...Southern hymn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE SWEET BY AND BY")

T J OSBORNE: (Singing) In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

SHAPIRO: T.J. Osborne recently came out. Did you and he talk about your shared experience growing up gay in the church?

JORDAN: You know, what happened was we texted a lot. He was going to make that announcement. And that's a big one in the country music industry. And it was a very heartfelt decision, but it was one that he knew he had to make. And what do you do? I just told him I'm here. I'm here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE SWEET BY AND BY")

JORDAN: And our spirits shall sorrow no more.

OSBORNE: (Singing) And our spirits shall sorrow no more.

JORDAN: You know, people will ask me, well, what was your coming out experience? Honey, I fell out of the womb into my mother's high heels, you know what I mean?

(LAUGHTER)

JORDAN: I do remember, at some point, telling people. I remember I told my mother when I was about 12. I thought she might pull out the Bible. That's what I thought would happen, you know? Just not at all, not at all. She was so wise. And I remember her saying, my fear is that you'll be ridiculed. And I could not bear that. So maybe you can live just a quiet life. So here I am (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE SWEET BY AND BY")

OSBORNE: (Singing) We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

KELLY: That's the late Leslie Jordan in conversation with our co-host Ari Shapiro last year. In a statement today, his agent wrote, knowing he has left the world at the height of both his professional and personal life is the only solace one can have today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE SWEET BY AND BY")

OSBORNE: (Singing) In the sweet... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.