(Finding Leslie Jordan’s final TV work on Fox has been a bit tricky. His “Call Me Kat” episode, on Nov. 3, was bumped by the World Series; so was his visit to “The Masked Singer” on Nov. 2. The latter is apparently now set for Nov. 9; meanwhile, here’s the story I wrote after Jordan died in a car accident.)
When Leslie Jordan first got there, Hollywood knew what a star should look like.
That was 40 years ago, when TV was dominated by Tom Selleck and Selleck types. A star would be 6-foot-4, handsome, a ladies man, with a Midwestern-type voice.
And Jordan (shown here), who died Monday (Oct. 24) at 67, was the exact opposite. He was 4-foot-11, gay, with an impish charm and a pronounced Tennessee accent. “I realized that my job was the funny guy that comes in with the zingers,” he told the Television Critics Association in 2018.
He did that often, with his biggest successes coming late – varied roles in “American Horror Story” … a recurring one (and an Emmy award) in “Will & Grace” … a starring role in “The Cool Kids” … and his current, co-starring one in “Call Me Kat,” at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays on Fox.
“The way it’s unfolded has been amazing,” he told the TCA in 2018. One of the bigger detours would come two years later.
That was when the pandemic hit and roles vanished. “I just took off,” Jordan recalled to the TCA, late in 2020. “I was at home (in Tennessee) with my mom during the lockdown, and I just started posting.”
He was on Instagram twice a day for 80 days, with good-humored comments and memories. “One thing that I decided was – no religion, no politics, just funny.”
He ended up with 5.8 million followers. “My friend called from California. He said, ‘You’ve gone viral.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m fine.’ … I knew what that meant – but not really.”
That story may be exaggerated a tad, in the style of a Southern storyteller. So might be his 2018 account of reaching Hollywood:
“I got here in 1982, with $1,200 that my mother pinned into my underpants, on a Greyhound bus. And I got off at the corner of Vine Street and De Longre ….
“I had a huge mustache and I didn’t want anybody to know I was gay. I had an acting teacher who said, ‘Whatever it is that you are hiding … is going to be your selling point.’”
She was right about that; his best roles involved playing openly gay men.
That wasn’t as easy as it might seem, he said. The son of an Army Reserve major (who died in a plane crash when Jordan was 11), he grew up “with all the internal homophobia, being raised in the Baptist church, baptized 14 times. Never did take.”
After early troubles in Hollywood, including addiction, he found success. Some roles were even transformed to fit him.
A key example was his “Cool Kids” role. “We had a completely different character” in mind, Charlie Day, the show’s co-creator, said in 2018. “He was a nervous hypochondriac from Brooklyn.”
He was also 73 and straight, recalled Jordan, who was then 63. “I walk in. I said, ‘I’m going to put a different spin on this.’”
The show got mixed reviews and Fox canceled it after a season. After the lockdown – and his Instagram stardom – it cast Jordan in a small-but-cheery role as Mayim Bialik’s friend and employee.
Reviews have been fairly negative, often describing “Kat” as likable actors given bad material. Fox stuck with it for this third season, but gave it a tough slot, with a low-rated lead-in. Jordan had taped nine episodes for the season, with the fifth airing Thursday (Oct. 27).
His death came at 9:30 a.m. Monday in a one-car crash, with investigators feeling he might have had a medical emergency. Afterward, the show suspended production; Bialik and her colleagues posted an Instagram tribute, saying, in part: “He was a Southern gentleman; tender, wise, naughty and hilarious.”