Those who have spent any amount of time in Austin have probably heard of Leslie. An Austin institution, he may be the only homeless transvestite to finish second in a mayoral election for a major American city. If I recall correctly, he received 8% of the vote in 2000, losing to incumbent mayor Kirk Watson. There were two other candidates that year, but I don’t remember much about them.
When Cochran ran for mayor in 2000, incumbent Kirk Watson expressed concern about the match-up: “My fear is that this will not be an issue-oriented campaign but (about) who has the best legs, and then I know I’m a dead man,” Watson said.
Leslie passed away yesterday. He had been ill for a while, but kept hanging on. It seemed difficult to imagine an Austin without Leslie in it.
Leslie Cochran — the city’s flesh-flashing, cross-dressing, attention-loving, frequently homeless mascot, unofficial ambassador and sometimes mayoral candidate — died about 12:30 a.m. at Christopher House, an inpatient hospice, his sister Alice Masterson said. He was 60.
Of course, there was a parade in his honor last night. I didn’t hear about it until afterwards. I’m ensconced in SXSW stuff, but I still can’t shake off the feeling that my city is a bit too….normal today.
Usually dressed in ankle-snapping ladies’ heels and a thong, Cochran was a fixture in Austin, particularly downtown, the Sixth St. entertainment district and South Austin. He became known around the world as a key example of the city’s populace embracing and celebrating its freaks. Albert Leslie Cochran eventually ascended to the highest rank of celebrity, joining the few known by one name only.
In a city that prides itself on uniqueness, there was perhaps no better icon of uniqueness than Leslie. He could often be seen riding a bike on South Congress Avenue in fishnets, heels, and a thong (and nothing else). He was pretty weird, which I guess was the whole idea, but everyone loved him in their own way.
Friends describe him as funny, intelligent and charming. They also describe him as an alcoholic, stubborn and unreliable. And since a 2009 head injury, he had been in decline.
I recall how, several years ago, some rich guy in Westlake asked Leslie to house-sit for him for a few weeks while he was out of town. The word on the srtreet afterwards was that the IRS was trying to collect tax from Leslie on the value of his time spent in the big, fancy house, the food and other sundries he got to use, etc., I assume under the theory that it constituted “payment” for house-sitting services. I don’t know how the situation was resolved, but it only added to Leslie’s legend.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell was expected to proclaim Thursday and every March 8 forward Leslie Day in Austin.
This morning, 101X played an interview they did with Leslie in 2008. I suspect that more than a few people just assumed he was “crazy.” The interview certainly presented him as well-spoken and even eloquent, if quite weird. He had one hell of an unusual life, and he did more than his fair share to make this city weird. I see other unusual characters on the side of the road–the guy who stands on the side of Red River just south of 45th Street all day blowing bubbles comes to mind–but we’ll never replace Leslie. Why the hell would we want to?
Photo credit: By Johannamcshan (Johanna McShan Photography) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons