Kept Austin Weird
March 8, 2012 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Leslie Cochran, Austin, Texas street person, peace-activist, and icon has died.

Cochran had run for Mayor of Austin three times, most recently in 2003 (after three runs, his highest showing was a 2nd place finish, garnering 7.75% of the 2000 mayoral vote).
posted by ColdChef (69 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by swift at 6:50 AM on March 8, 2012

Crap. I knew he was in hospice care. Such a sad thing. I can't believe that our Leslie in his thong and heels is gone.

posted by PuppyCat at 6:51 AM on March 8, 2012

Had no idea he wasn't well. Always enjoyed seeing him around town when I lived in Austin.

posted by Saxon Kane at 6:53 AM on March 8, 2012

I actually just saw this on Twitter. How sad :(
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:53 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by donajo at 6:54 AM on March 8, 2012

Bummer, interesting dude. With him and DC's Black Cat Bill gone from our midst, things will be quieter and less enjoyable.
posted by joedanger at 6:57 AM on March 8, 2012

Bummer, interesting dude. With him and DC's Black Cat Bill gone from our midst, things will be quieter and less enjoyable.

Wait, did Black Cat Bill actually die? The last I heard he had been reported dead, but was still alive.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:01 AM on March 8, 2012

With him and DC's Black Cat Bill gone from our midst.

Bill's health is shaky but, contrary to Twitter, he's still alive.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:01 AM on March 8, 2012


The guy was a fixture. RIP, Leslie!
posted by orrnyereg at 7:02 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by reverend cuttle at 7:04 AM on March 8, 2012 [12 favorites]

posted by jbelshaw at 7:07 AM on March 8, 2012

:(. . The death of good people is always aaas thing for the planet.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:07 AM on March 8, 2012

a sad thing for the planet.*
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:08 AM on March 8, 2012


I'll never forget encountering Leslie for the first time. I'd just moved to Austin from Oklahoma City in 1996, and was working across from the then-Frost Bank building at 8th and Congress. Went out to grab some lunch, came back, and sat down. Told a coworker "I just saw what looked like one of the members of ZZ Top in a string bikini." and they said "Yes! Leslie!" 8-)
posted by mrbill at 7:11 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by Xoebe at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2012

Leslie was the least-dressed mayoral candidate, well, possibly ever.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by jim in austin at 7:24 AM on March 8, 2012

Austin is a little less weird today.

posted by jph at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by mister nice at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by jopreacher at 7:30 AM on March 8, 2012

Damn. Damn damn damn.

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:32 AM on March 8, 2012

In 1997, when I was the front desk manager of the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, Leslie came into the lobby on Christmas morning with his whole cart. The general manager of the hotel asked me to call the police to have him removed, but I was able to convince him to take an armful of fruit and $20 to exit quietly. He was dressed head to toe as an elf, including curly-toed shoes.

A few years later, I ran into him at a bus stop and I apologized for being so rude to him that Christmas. He was completely understanding and he forgave me.
posted by ColdChef at 7:39 AM on March 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have been going to austin 3 or 4 times a year for probably ten years, and every time almost without fail have talked to Leslie on a metro bus.

posted by holdkris99 at 7:39 AM on March 8, 2012

RIP Leslie. Nice to see the personal reminiscences. (I have none despite living here for several years, alas.)
posted by immlass at 7:47 AM on March 8, 2012

Gotta say the thong with cowboy boots was a look that threw me first time I met him. God speed Leslie.
posted by ahimsakid at 7:53 AM on March 8, 2012

When I worked downtown a few years ago, there was nothing like seeing Leslie in his thong bent over his cart at 8:00 a.m. on Sixth Street.

The Statesman article hit the nail on the head: Austin just got a little less weird.

posted by tippiedog at 7:53 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by pelican at 7:53 AM on March 8, 2012

Leslie had his own paperdoll magnet set. They sell them at Planet K, among other places.
posted by pelican at 7:57 AM on March 8, 2012

Well, I guess I've got reason to rejoice now. Bill's not dead!
posted by joedanger at 8:02 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by kmz at 8:06 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by grouse at 8:07 AM on March 8, 2012

I have a pleasant memory of sharing tallboys with Leslie and a girlfriend of mine one beautiful spring day about 13 or 14 years ago. We were in a little field behind a strip of businesses in south Austin, sitting on crates and swapping stories for a good couple of hours. When the beer ran out we parted ways, the girl and I to go home and wash up, getting ready for an evening of trashy scenesterdom, and Leslie to go and do whatever it was that Leslie did - probably a night of entertaining the fratboys and the lookie-loos down on 6th Street.

I remember thinking about how different our worlds were and trying to find similarities in them. He didn't strike me as a particularly happy person, though maybe he was just going through a rough patch, as we all do from time to time. I know I wasn't a happy person at the time, choosing to drown my glumness in drugs and girls and music and party after party. In a youthful grab at introspection, I tried to connect his world to mine. It didn't stick, and after a short time I forgot about it, even letting the story of drinking with Leslie fall by the wayside.

Leslie and I had never spoken before and we never spoke again. Godspeed, Mr. Thongman.
posted by item at 8:10 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by ubiquity at 8:18 AM on March 8, 2012


The Statesman article hit the nail on the head: Austin just got a little less weird.

I thought that too, but it made me feel odd. That makes me feel like Leslie was considered a credit to Austin, that he was here for our pleasure, and that he was just part of the scenery. But I don't want to forget that he was a real guy with some real problems, and I hope the end wasn't too painful.
posted by hanoixan at 8:24 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by jpziller at 8:26 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by melt away at 8:28 AM on March 8, 2012

Aw, naw. I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Leslie on several occasions, and he was always civil if not necessarily ...clothed.

posted by louche mustachio at 8:29 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by Seamus at 8:30 AM on March 8, 2012

My very conservative father-in-law was fascinated by Leslie. When he worked down-town, he would drive around to look for him a couple times a week. He would take visitors to go see him. "See", not "talk to". It was like a zoo thing. Weird.

Austin has and has had some pretty neat homeless folks. Leslie was but one.
I remember the days of the bicycle cart with the huge signs with a diatribe in small letters about his abuse at the hands of the APD. I am glad he had a voice in this city. I hope his passing and his life help us, as a city, more towards a more humane attitude and policy about the homeless.
posted by Seamus at 8:38 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I moved to Austin nearly 15 years ago and came across Leslie as he stood there on the corner of 6th and Congress, my first thought was, "Damn. I'll never have legs as good as his."
posted by freakinloon at 8:41 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm glad I got to see him in action the times I did. RIP Leslie. hanoixan, yes I hope this reminds people how much more we could be doing to provide housing and support to the homeless and the mentally ill. I don't know Leslie's reasons for being homeless or if it was as deliberately desired a choice as was stated in the article (maybe so!) but I don't think he would be against reflecting on ways to serve human beings in states of homelessness in an empowering and respectful way (which is hard to do).

A few programs in Austin:
Foundation Communites
"Foundation Communities is a local non-profit providing first class, affordable homes and support services for thousands of low-income families and individuals, empowering them with the tools they need to succeed. We offer an innovative, proven model that enables our residents and neighbors to achieve educational success and financial stability."
Front Steps
"Front Steps was formed in 1997 as the Capital Area Homeless Alliance in response to a recommendation of the Community Action Network’s 1996 Comprehensive Plan for Addressing Homelessness. From its founding, our philosophy has been that all people deserve the dignity of a safe place to call home."
Green doors
"Founded in 1990 by a formerly homeless young woman, Green Doors' mission is to prevent and help end homelessness and poverty housing for those working to achieve independent living in Central Texas."
"Empowering women with children to overcome homelessness in Central Texas. Saint Louise House believes in the intrinsic worth of every person. We strive to keep families together. Our goal is to be the model for long-term supportive housing in Central Texas."
Trinity center
"Trinity Center serves the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Austin."
posted by xarnop at 8:52 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Had a beer with Leslie some random night maybe seven or eight years ago. Was out with friends. He was just hanging out talking to people. Very nice guy. Quite a cultural loss for Austin.
posted by chasing at 8:54 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by fremen at 8:57 AM on March 8, 2012

There won't be another like Leslie in Austin again. Just another sign of this small town's passing. RIP.
posted by Gilbert at 8:58 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to see Leslie just about every day at Bouldin Creek coffeehouse. He did start to look rougher over time; I think he had a rough life. I'd heard he wasn't well and hadn't seen him for over a year.

My favorite memory of Leslie was him hanging out at Eeyore's Birthday one year dressed in a cheerleader's outfit. The team name on the outfit? The Cougars.
posted by no mind at 9:52 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I saw him many, many times during the six years that I lived in Austin. He used to roll a cart around -- maybe it was a shopping cart -- that was papered with cardboard signs with writing on them so that it was kind of like a rolling tower of protest/expression/craziness.

At some point, maybe after I left Austin, I read an article about a woman in an upscale neighborhood who was in a dispute with her neighbors and she moved out of her house and let Leslie move in, so the neighbors were graced with his traipsing around the front yard in his signature thong, even enjoying sunbathing in the front yard, much to the dismay of the neighbors, IIRC.

posted by jayder at 10:21 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by caddis at 10:27 AM on March 8, 2012

(Taking this walk down memory lane, I googled Jennifer Gale, another perennial candidate for office in Austin, and learned that she passed away in 2008).
posted by jayder at 10:28 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

For those of you who've never seen Leslie, the Stateman has put up a photo gallery
posted by tippiedog at 11:09 AM on March 8, 2012

Jayder, that upscale neighborhood was West Lake Hills
posted by tippiedog at 11:10 AM on March 8, 2012


Leslie was after my time in Austin. There was an elderly homeless guy that used to come into the restaurant I worked at. He rode his bike all the way from a cave near Lake Travis and he looked a lot like Leslie (without the thongs and high heels). Very nice guy who sadly died after getting hit by a car on Lamar.
posted by jabo at 11:25 AM on March 8, 2012

posted by pixelcharmer at 11:44 AM on March 8, 2012

Leslie, you will be remembered.

posted by kamikazegopher at 12:03 PM on March 8, 2012

posted by mattbucher at 12:17 PM on March 8, 2012

posted by spinifex23 at 12:18 PM on March 8, 2012

Man, he was an icon. He will be missed.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:19 PM on March 8, 2012

I had some drinks with Leslie at a bar and chatted with him for a while one time. He was very funny, very witty, and used every opportunity to show his ass (ie. someone drops a fork, Leslie stands, lifts his skirt and bends over to grab it). He told me he was once in the Navy, which kinda blew my mind. Living on the streets was his choice, he said could never lead a normal life. He didn't.
posted by jefbla at 1:01 PM on March 8, 2012

What I liked, what Leslie represented to me was the acceptance to be found here in Austin. Austin is such a sweet town. I sortof think of Austin as "The Girl Next Door" type of city, by which I mean pretty but okay about it, friendly, not taken in by her beauty though knowing it's there, won't fake orgasms, dresses well if a bit funky, and when she asks you it's because really wants to know how you are today. It's just a good vibe to be found here, esp for a Texas city but I think for any US city, really.*
*Without the humidity we'd be overrun here in about fourteen minutes; you've got to be hearty to live here, or maybe nuts, willing to suffer the summers to get the goods.

When Leslie got not only accepted but embraced here, it only cemented into place what I pretty much knew anyways, but he was a physical manifestation of it — if Leslie is accepted here, loved even, as outside the box as he is, surely my social ineptitudes and lunacies are going to fall inside the bounds somehow. And so are yours. I really like that. Leslie would have been beaten to death in about a day in Dallas, or San Antone, he'd have lasted maybe two minutes in Houston before he got run down, or shot, or both, but here in Austin the guy runs for mayor and pulls it off, not that he got to be mayor but he was treated like a human being, an exceptional human being at that. A bearded cross-dresser and completely in your face about it, telling Austin cops off and calling them names, day after day, year after year — yeah, that'd work out *real* well in Houston, good luck, write from jail if you make it through the beatings.


One morning in the mid 90s, I'm downtown, going in for a cup of coffee, and Jesus H. Christ on a crutch !!! I cranked my head around at the sight of this woman, she's dressed as a total, complete sleaze-bag but My god! she had these amazing legs, an unreal butt. I'm talking an outstandingly fine set of pins, perched on high heels, which of course helps things along just one heck of a lot. (Mary Karr wrote in The Liars Club that her sister had said that if god hadn't wanted her to wear high heels, god wouldn't have made her legs look so damn fine in them.) So anyways, I'm gaping, gawping at this sleaze and "she" turned around and there's Leslie. Yikes. Comical.


My experience of him — which was considerable, over the years, downtown first and then South Congress and Bouldin Creek Caffeine Emporium here in recent years — in my experience of him he was not a pleasant guy. Irascible would maybe fit. He had tons of fun, of that I have no doubt, but he didn't look like a happy guy, and came across off-key, like biting into a piece of tin-foil inside your sandwich. I never saw any peace in his eyes. Again, irascible. Living on the street, you've got to know that he'd have to have taken lots more abuse than I have or could withstand, and no place to hide out, no place with privacy to catch your balance. He chose the street, and liked what it offered, but the street... Look at the face of anyone who's been on the street a while, it's written there plain as day.


Looking at Leslie, in recent years, I'd think often of a character in A Confederate Soldier From Big Sur (Brautigan), a girl who got pregnant in her mid-teens, and had the child, and gave the child up, and then she became a local character, grew immensely fat and screwed sailors and walked that neighborhood in SF and was in the coffeehouses, ranting and raving about this or that, and she said she was a painter though she never painted anything, and then one day she was no longer in fashion, and then she was just gone. Where do people go when they're no longer in fashion?
Personally, I suspect that it's somewhere in Indiana.


He came up and said hi, maybe 18 months ago — I didn't even recognize him. The change in him was pretty dramatic. He'd turned into an old man, grayed in his hair and in his skin, if you can see what I'm saying. The fire he'd had in his eyes, the fire that was there alongside or maybe within that irascibility, it was mostly gone, or so it seemed to me, and it wasn't replaced by the peace, either, sad to say. He mostly looked old, and ill, part drunk, the street just all over him. We spoke just a little — hi, how are you, what's kickin' — but we always just spoke a little anyways, it's not like we went out clubbing together, or worked on cars or whatever, right?


Bob and I meet Sunday evenings, you'll find us perched there on that stoop just south of Uncommon Objects, watching Austin go by, discussing and discoursing upon The State Of The World etc and etc. I brought up Leslie, told Bob what I'd seen, asked him his take; Bob of course had seen Leslie also, Leslie being the neighborhood fixture that he was. Bob was of the belief that Leslie was wet-brain, just too long drinking too much, and I'm sure that's some of what happened, but that brain injury had to be in there, too, if not a larger factor than being wet. In any case, we agreed that Leslie Was Screwed, and that it wasn't pretty to watch. Even before this precipitous decline he'd fallen somewhat out of fashion, it'd been a slower decline but it'd been coming his way, coffee shops didn't want him hanging around, one coffee shop (probably more than one place but one that I knew of, for sure) would call the cops like Right Now if he was around; it was too bad, but I can't blame them, they've got a business to run, and Leslie, no longer fun for photo ops, now just another panhandler...


I'm sorry that he's gone. Life does move on. Hopefully we'll all leave this joint better for us having been here. Leslie damn sure did that; just by being who he clearly had to be, he gave us a lot.

posted by dancestoblue at 1:35 PM on March 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

posted by colt45 at 1:36 PM on March 8, 2012

jabo, I remember that guy. There used to be a large homeless encampment out along 360 in the cedar brakes along 360. I worked in the bikeshop in the north REI and my manager allowed me to give that guy some cheap parts out of the scrap/used parts box and work on his bike in my off time. I forget his name.
posted by Seamus at 2:35 PM on March 8, 2012

I left Austin 12 years ago. Last time I went back, so much had changed that it didn't really feel like home anymore. Leslie was still there, though, on the same corner, with the same beard and the same fishnets and the same heels. Seeing him instantly made me feel better.

May you be twirling flowers in front of a large plate glass window in Heaven, dear Leslie. Cheers.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:43 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 2:47 PM on March 8, 2012

The homeless people in Central Austin were very recognizable presences when I lived there in the late 90's and early 00's -- Leslie was a big one, of course, everyone knew him, but there were also quieter ones like the tall, slender guy who obsessively rummaged through newspaper racks in coffee shops; making his rounds in places like the now-closed Little City in Congress; I never heard him utter a word except in mumbling to himself. Or an Asian guy who seemed totally out of it with some form of schizophrenia but was constantly out and about in central Austin.

I wonder what happens to these people. They are part of the urban community, then they disappear ... What is interesting about Leslie is that he seemed to have it together enough to advocate for himself and others, he was definitely in a different category from these silent sufferers of homelessness.
posted by jayder at 4:32 PM on March 8, 2012

At one of the weirder points in my life I made the mistake of colaborating with a guy who really had no skills or direction and was looking for someone's coat tails to cling to. He was visiting from Dallas and heard about Leslie and asked me to take him to meet the man in the thong. We found him, i think it was a friday, downtown in the middle of sixth and, for a homeless man, rather well equipped with a moto razor (they were still kind of "cool" and "new" at that point, but on the verge of becoming the phone that everyone had). So my accomplice got his phone number, and the next day at 8 in the morning wanted to meet at Bouldin Creek to basically ask the guy if we could exploit him on a cable access show we didn't have. Leslie was all for it and sure he would take over the whole thing, and though he seemed rather jovial, I was struck by this kind of lingering since of greater sorrow hiding behind the lewd jokes (such as the lighter that popped out a penis, that sang "fuck you fuck you"). he certainly was a character though.
posted by djduckie at 5:22 PM on March 8, 2012

. Leslie, you led a hard life. I never envied you, but damn I respect you.

Austin lost a lone giant today.
posted by roboton666 at 9:42 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

My last conversation with Leslie was when I picked him up two years ago at a bus stop on S. Lamar. It was a cold winter's night and Les was, in true fashion, inappropriately dressed for the weather while waiting for the habitually not-on-schedule Cap Metro. The ride in my car only lasted a few minutes (he literally hopped out two blocks later), but he was as charming as ever, even though it was post-accident/beating. Leslie always put a smile on my face
/keep austin weird
posted by ch3ch2oh at 11:53 PM on March 8, 2012

I'm a native Austinite. Austin was always a city in transition for the 20 years I was there, a city caught between many contradictory forces. Leslie was a symbol of a certain kind of defiance that was everything great about the town. It was a great place to grow up, but part of me is glad I left before Leslie died.
posted by quincunx at 12:44 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I never got a photo with Leslie, never had a conversation with him, but I loved the fact that there was a dude in the city that everyone not only knew about but felt like they actually knew. Had I been in ch3ch2oh's situation, I could see myself having offered a ride to an eccentric homeless man with whom I'd never spoken before in my life, and that says quite a bit about Leslie's charm. He was our Emperor Norton.

I was born and raised in New Orleans and now live in Austin. If I run into a New Orleanian in another city, we'll probably talk about the Saints; if I run into an Austinite outside of Austin, we'll probably end up talking about Leslie. He was a shared experience.
posted by savetheclocktower at 4:22 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Chichibio at 10:42 AM on March 16, 2012

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