The first time I really hung out with Leslie Cochran was at Star Bar. He was wearing a women’s one piece bathing suit and a cape. My friends and I were still underage and he had been cut off by the bartender — minor obstacles. Armed with decent fake ids, we ordered another round of drinks and one for Leslie, who showed us the proper way to drink a Cosmopolitan, which is to promptly dispose of the glass and strainer, and tip the shaker straight back into your mouth.
We were instantly Leslie Groupies.
Of course we already knew Leslie, even though he didn’t really know us. I had first seen him in 1999. He had only been in Austin a few years, but he was already downtown wearing not much but platforms and a thong, and pulling his trademark contraption - a giant statue of junk on wheels secured to a rolling office chair. On the side was a homemade cardboard billboard featuring an eclectic collection of thoughts — but most prominently a few that called out the injustices of the APD. I’ll always remember seeing him that day, because it was at that moment that I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. And I liked it.
He had become a fixture during my college years on Sixth Street — we saw him almost every weekend. And whenever you did see him (or even better, got to talk to him), it somehow made your night better. More Austin. More real. One of my favorite memories of Leslie was when he made a cameo during a Master Pancake Theater intermission show at the old Drafthouse on Colorado. The movie was Titanic, and Leslie came out from backstage as Kate Winslet, laying down on a chaise lounge to have his portrait painted.
Over the years that followed that night at Star Bar, he became a legend. I don’t think I’ve ever known another living person who had more folklore surrounding him. I heard that he was an underground millionaire, that the City secretly subsidized him for “Keeping Austin Weird”. That he lived in an abandoned mold-infested mansion in Westlake. That his magnet-collection at Book People had made him enough money to live on forever. I heard that he had a storage unit that was repossessed and unlocked to reveal a huge collection of dvds and a suitcase full of dildos. It seemed like almost everyone you talked to knew the real story on Leslie Cochran.
As the city started to change, it became especially comforting to me to have a “Leslie sighting.” As long as he was here, Austin was still Austin. The last time I saw him was down on Sixth street and, with a little liquid courage coursing through my veins, told him that he was an inspiration to me and many others. We had a conversation I will never forget, too personal to write here. But I’m so glad that we had it.
When the news broke that Leslie had passed away, I felt comfort in knowing that he was no longer living in pain, which I believe he had been for a few years. He had recently told reporters that he was ready to leave Austin and return to Boulder, Colorado where he used to live. I just think it was his time to go.
But I still haven’t processed the fact that I’m never going to have the thrill of seeing him or talking to him again.
To say that Austin just got a little less weird is an understatement. Leslie Cochran was an inspiration. He showed us that by having the courage to just be yourself, you can create your own reality. For me, he will always represent the Austin that I fell in love with. I saw in him a courageous, fun-loving and gentle heart. All qualities that I value most in people. Leslie, thank you so much for living here and for being yourself. You meant so much to so many people. I’ll see you on the other side.