& PERFORMERS CREATIVITY THRU TRANSGENDERISM
I was born November 17th, 7:58 p.m. at Mercy Hospital
in San Diego, California. When asked what she named her
baby boy, my Mother replied, "His name is RuPaul Andre
Charles and he's gonna be a star! Cause ain't another
mother f**ker alive with a name like that!"
My sister Renetta decided
to give me a bath at six months old. She felt that I was
her baby, because she had prayed and prayed for God to
send her a little baby brother. During the bath she couldn't
figure out why the baby wouldn't stop crying, she didn't
know that she had broken my left arm. Renetta was only
seven years old. Many years later my Dad told me they
knew something was wrong, cause I was such a good baby
who never cried. He said, "We could sit Ru down in the
corner and he wouldn't make a sound," a trait that would
prove to be not so good for me as I grew older.
My first memory is that of my mother giving my sister
"Rozy" a bath in the kitchen sink. She didn't break her
arm. Rosalind Annette Charles was born January 28,1962.
I was the only boy born to Ernestine "Toni" Fontenette
and Irving Andrew Charles. My older sisters are twins
born twenty-six minutes apart. Renae Ann Charles and Renetta
Ann Charles were born October 18, 1953.
I saw "The Supremes" on
the Ed Sullivan TV show. I fell in love with them, particularly,
the skinny one in the middle.
Renetta says I would prance around the front yard in her
pink dress. I don't remember that, but I do remember lip-sinking
"The Supremes" hit song "Baby Love" by the side of the
garage. Neighborhood kids inform me that I am a sissy.
My parents were fighting
a lot by this time. Every time they would start, we kids
would run into the bedroom and hold each other crouching
down as though it were an air raid.
divorce was as ugly and nasty as it could have gotten.
I thought it was all my fault. I wouldn't understand how
traumatized I was by it until I was well into my twenties.
My mother basically shut down for a couple of years. Isolating
in her room with Valium and Lithium. We went on welfare
and we kids became little adults, taking care of mom and
keeping secrets from social workers, daddy and anyone
else who could threaten our family.
I followed "Nae" and "Netta"
everywhere. They would try to get rid of me, but they
just couldn't shake me. They would spend most of their
time down the street at Debra and Aletha's house, playing
records and talking about boys. I learned how to dance
at their house. That year I had a Hernia operation. The
doctor said it was probably caused by being tickled so
much by my older sisters.
twins ran away from home. Momma says she threw them out.
They were 15 years old.
Momma got a job at Planned
Parenthood. Renetta married a boy from school, two months
after her 17th birthday. People mistake me for a girl.
got shit-faced drunk for the first time and smoked my
I fell in love with a
boy at school. By then, I was already a pro at hiding
my feelings so that's what I did. That summer I enrolled
in the San Diego Children's Theater. 1974 I started smoking
Kool filter kings.
grade I won "Best Afro" and "Best Dancer" at Gompers Jr.
High School. In September, I enrolled at Patrick Henry
High School. By December I was kicked out of that school
for "never once attending a class".
My sister Renetta suggested
I move in with her and my brother-in-law. She felt the
change of environment would be good for me. Six months
later, we all relocated to Atlanta, GA. We fell on "hard
times" when we first moved to Atlanta and it was very
tough. But still I felt so happy to leave San Diego, I
never felt like I belonged there. In the fall I enrolled
at the Northside School of the Performing Arts where I
repeated the tenth grade because my grades were so bad
the year before. I got my drivers license on my b-day
and was off and running. I was having the time of my life!
Till this day, when people ask me where I'm from, I say
"Hotlanta!" I was really able to blossom there, just like
the beautiful Dogwood trees do in the springtime.
new year started with me changing my curriculum from music
theater to drama. I loved my two-hour acting class and
I loved my acting teacher; we all did. William A. Pannell
was a twenty-six year old, first time teacher who had
studied with the great Lee Strasburg, in Hollywood! Mr.
Pannell had also graduated from "Northside," ten years
prior, under the tutelage of Billy G. Densmore, the head
of the performing arts school and my instructor in music
theater. We all agreed that "Billy G." was "the enemy"
because he represented the establishment and we were "the
cutting edge." Everyday I would catch a ride, 18 miles
into town, from Barney Smith, our neighbor from across
the street. Then I'd take the #23 bus up Peachtree Road
to West Wesley, where I'd hitchhike the last mile to get
It's too bad I didn't apply
that same determination when it came to doing my schoolwork!
The only class I didn't "skip" was Drama, and that was
the last class of the day! By March, my grades were so
bad, my brother-in-law threatened to transfer me to a
closer school. I was devastated. Mr. Pannell knew how
upset I was, so he took me to the side and gave me the
best advice I had ever gotten. He said "RuPaul, don't
take life so seriously". I ended up staying at Northside
that whole year! And it was the best school year of my
later when I saw the movie "Fame," it was like a 'deja
vu' of my year at Northside. But, of course, we were much
more scandalous than the kids in the movie.
I dropped out of high
school and later took the G.E.D test (General Education
Diploma). By this time I had already worked part-time
for my brother-in-law's used luxury car business for two
years. Now I could work for him full-time, and I did until
1982. I never had what it took to sell a car, but I did
have what it took to buy a car. I've always loved cars,
and Laurence would send me all over the U.S.A to buy them
or deliver them to his clients. Our motto was "buy low,
sell high." I must have traveled cross-country over 50
times in the five years I spent in the car biz. I used
to love breezing down some country highway in the middle
of thenight. I'd switch on the cruise control, light up
a joint and blast Donna Summer's "Live and More" album.
was absolutely the best year for music ever! Laurence
did a lot of business with another broker in San Diego,
so I got to visit my mother quite frequently. On one such
visit, one week after my 18th b-day, I lost my virginity
to a 36 year-old man named Richard. I had never even kissed
a man before. I remember when he kissed me that first
time I was so swept away, my knees buckled.
I moved back to San Diego
to attend the Community College there, but that didn't
last long. My old feelings of being stuck and stifled
in that sleepy little town returned and soon I was back
on the road again, driving cars for Laurence.
all the years I worked for Laurence, I never really made
any money to speak of, a couple of hundred bucks here
and there, and all the weed I could smoke. But I wasn't
there for the money or the weed; I was there for the experience.
He taught me how to go out into the world and get what
I wanted. He taught me how to listen and how to articulate
my thoughts. I learned how to negotiate with people in
business and above all, I learned that I had as much right
to fulfill my dreams as any white person had. Laurence
was a go-getter. He was exciting, charming and up until
then he was the most adventurous person I had ever met.
By this time, it had become
very apparent to me that I had already learned everything
my brother-in-law had to teach me. It was time for me
to do what I had always wanted to do with my life, get
into show business.
channel surfing one night, I came across a local "public
access" TV show called "The American Music Show." Obviously
videotaped in someone's living room once a week, it had
a talk show/sketch comedy type format that had no format
at all. Hosted by Dick Richards and James Bond and featuring
a weird cast of social misfits. It was very politically
irreverent, funny, sick, wrong and I loved it. In my gut
I knew, I had found my tribe. I immediately wrote a letter
to the show explaining how much I loved what they did
and that I would love to be a part of it. Two weeks later,
I got a call from Paul Burke, saying they got my letter
and would love for me to be on the show after the holidays.
January marked my official
start in show business, with the appearance of "RuPaul
and the U-hauls" on "The American Music Show." "The U-hauls"
consisted of my two girlfriends, Robin Prows and Josette
Glasper-el. I made some costumes for us to wear and then
we worked out a dance routine to "Shotgun" by "Junior
Walker and the All Stars." We were a smash hit!!! Everyone
loved us, but none more than "Now Explosion." They were
a popular local band in the vein of the "B52's" and part
of "T.A.M.S." ensemble. We became their opening act, but
by the time we opened for them at NYC's famed "Pyramid
Club," the original" "U-Hauls" were replaced by Gina Smith
and Chrissie Thorpe, two full figure colored gals with
lots of attitude and an appetite for fun. They both worked
at a department store restaurant, where they got me a
job as the short order cook. I worked there for almost
three months before I was fired. I had also moved to midtown
that summer and lived with my first boyfriend, Todd. We
had a rocky relationship which proved to me that I had
learned more from my parents than I thought or cared to.
It's no wonder why it had taken me so long to hook up
visiting NYC, I got the idea to "snipe" midtown Atlanta
with Xerox copies of posters I made, usually with a photo
of me that I had "doctored" to flawless perfection, announcing
my appearances or just that "RuPaul is red hot." I would
use wallpaper wheat paste, which made them virtually impossible
to tear down. Needless to say, I got a lot of attention
and it made me famous in the area. Soon all the local
bands were doing it. In January '83, Robert Warren and
Todd Butler, two guys who were currently attending my
old high school, Northside, asked me to join the band
they were forming, "Wee Wee Pole."
"Wee Wee Pole featuring
RuPaul and the U-Hauls..." played the local new wave/punk
club circuit and became very popular. I had also been
evicted from my apartment and was homeless all of that
the band broke up I asked myself, what do rock stars do
after a breakup? My answer was to write a "book" and do
"movies." "If you love me, give it to me" was a photocopied,
stapled together autobiography that I sold for $2 that,
along with picture postcards I sold for 50 cents, kept
me in Coca-Colas and Viceroy 100's. "Trilogy of Terror"
was shot on my brother-in-law's home video camera. The
movie featured my first drag role and full backal nudity
by me. The John Waters inspired epic was directed by LaHoma
Van Zant and was a hit in the underground. Two sequels
followed by spring of that year. In July, I booked the
"RuPaul is red-hot revue" at NYC's "Pyramid Club" and
"Danceteria." I stayed in New York until Christmas, crashing
at peoples' apartments, sleeping on the piers or in Central
By January, I was back
in Atlanta, where I cut two tracks for an EP that "Funtone
Records U.S.A." released called "RuPaul: Sex Freak." The
mini album included three old songs I recorded with "Wee
Wee Pole," plus the two new songs, the title track and
after, I was asked by Atlanta's "theatrical outfit" to
play the role of "Riffraff" in the company's production
of "The Rocky Horror Show". "Rocky" was a huge hit and
ran 4 months! The show legitimized me in the eyes of the
city's mainstream audiences. The theatre was next door
to my old hangout, a disco called "Weekends." The owner
asked me to "go-go" dance there 4 nights a week, for 50
bucks a night plus tips. I was the only "go-go" dancer
at "Weekends" the whole two and a half years I worked
there. I loved it; it was like a work-study college scholarship.
I'd party all night and sleep all day.
Re-teaming with LaHoma
(Jon Witherspoon) brought the now classic movie "Starbooty"
(later spelled with two "r"'s). In the home video camera
lensed saga, I play the title character, an ex-model turned
government agent, kicking ass for Uncle Sam. "Starbooty"
was an instant cult hit. The soundtrack album soon followed,
released by "Funtone U.S.A." and produced by two guys
I met the year before, at the "New Music Seminar" in New
York, who went by the name "The Pop Tarts". The success
of "Starbooty" got the attention of a young filmmaker
named Wayne Hollowell. Over the next couple of years I
starred in a countless string of movies that Waynewrote
and directed with one common theme, sex, nudity, trashy
dialogue and fake blood. Titles like "American Porn Star,"
"Mahogany 2" and the sex-drenched gore-fest "Voyeur."
November, just days before my 27th b-day, Larry Tee, LaHoma
and I packed up the "Now Explosion van" and moved to New
York City. I had been feeling like a "big fish in a little
pond" in Atlanta, but that was not the case in Manhattan.
I started from the bottom up, all over again, once I hit
the city limits. This was the beginning of my "Saturn
Returns" period and it was f**king hard as HELL!!!!!!!
I did a show at a bar called "Chameleon" one night and
my pay was $18!!!
Absolutely, by far, the
darkest year of my life. It's still very difficult for
me to even write about it. I can barely punch the keyboard
on my computer, because just thinking about it makes me
feel paralyzed. Read my autobiography Letting it all Hang
Out for the full story.
January, Larry Tee offered me a place to stay and loaned
me the airfare to come back to NYC and "comeback" is what
I did!! I changed my image from "punk drag" to "black
hooker drag," which was much more sexy. My new look got
the attention of different promoters and I became a hot
"new" act. I worked non-stop as a lip-sinc/go-go/emcee.
at Larry Tee's "Love Machine" and Suzanne Bartsch's "Copacabana."
I even had a featured cameo in the B-52's "Love Shack"
video. By October, I was voted "Queen of Manhattan 1990"
by club owners, promoters and dj's at the annual event.
I had reached the pinnacle of success in downtown nightlife.
As "Queen of Manhattan,"
my job was to keep the party going and that's exactly
what I did. Booze, pills, acid, coke, pot, poppers, shrooms,
special k and sometimes a little ethel inhalation to keep
me from getting bored. Eight years of going out clubbing
every night got real tiring by the time I reached my 30th
b-day. The patrons kept getting younger and younger and
I knew it was time for me to make a move, plus on top
of that, some friends of mine (Deee-lite) had just hit
it big on the billboard charts and I was more than a little
bit envious. By year's end I quit drinking and doing chemicals
and doing nightclubs to focus on making music again and
shining above ground.
Pop Tarts agreed to manage me and Jimmy Harry and I set
out to write material for my demo. I used to generate
gigs by going out every night, but since I wasn't hanging
in clubs, bookings were few and far between. All my drinking
buddies acted as if my abstaining from the sauce was a
judgment against them. The only friends who supported
my awakening were PJ and Flloyd, so I stuck to them like
white on rice. Flloyd was working at the Film Forum so
I would hang out there constantly, watching movies like
"Paris is Burning" and "Funny Face," while sustaining
myself on free popcorn and seltzer water.
I had become very close
with Mathu and Zaldy during a Suszanne Bartsch club tour
of Japan Christmas '91. So, when Tommy Boy Records called
and offered me a deal, all the pieces were in place to
build a "Glamazon." Mathu and Zaldy actualized the image
that would deliver me to every home that had a television
in the world. On my birthday in 1992 the single "Supermodel"
February, the cancer in Mama's body was eating her alive.
She could no longer walk or hear in one ear. As the two
of us sat watching TV, Kurt Loder popped up on the tube,
teasing an MTV News story with footage me frolicking around
a shopping mall in Jersey City. He said "Coming up next,
she's er ah he's 6'4" and supermodel of the world." Me
and Mama both looked at each other, and in that moment
we simultaneously realized that her prediction, made 32
years prior, had finally come true. I was a star. That
was the last time I saw Mama.
I was having breakfast
in the Presidential Suite of the Century Plaza Hotel courtesy
of the "John & Leeza Show" when the phone rang and it
was my manager. He told me that Elton John wanted to include
me on his upcoming "Duets" album and was I interested?
I said, "Hold on one minute." The size of the suite gave
me the opportunity to flail my arms around while running
back and forth screaming "Oh my God Elton John! Oh my
God, Elton John!" I must have screamed for a good five
minutes before I got back on the line and answered nonchalantly,
was the same scenario when Arsenio, Spike Lee and a Canadian
named "Mac" called.
I had been using M.A.C
cosmetics since 1992 and I knew it was a great product.
So when Frank Toskin and Frank Angelo asked me to join
the company and become the "First Face of M.A.C," we all
knew we were going to make history together but no one
could have known how much of a dream come true this was
the course of six years, I launched store openings in
ten countries and helped raise over $22 million dollars
for the M.A.C AIDS fund.
When I found out that
there was a radio station featuring dance music in New
York City, I was very excited and I wanted to support
it by doing whatever I could. They asked if I could drop
in and be a guest on their morning show. Little did I
know that my old friend Michelle Visage was part of the
morning show team. But it didn't surprise me because as
long as I had known Michelle, she had always reinvented
herself; first as one of the popping, dipping and spinning
legendary children of the vogue balls, then as a member
of the chart topping girl group Seduction, then as a white
female rapper with writing credits on "The Bodyguard"
soundtrack. The chemistry that Michelle and I shared that
morning made it evident to the station's Program Director
that he was listening to his new morning show team. Long
story short; Michelle and I ended up hosting the WKTU
morning show together for almost two years.
the Arbitron ratings revealed that Michelle and I were
#3 in the tri-state area, following Howard and News Radio,
it was clear who should be my co-host on the re-vamped
RuPaul TV show on VH1. In all of my career so far, doing
"The RuPaul Show" was the most creatively satisfying,
fun-filled working experience I've ever had.
I wasn't sure why I moved
back to California. On the surface it seemed like the
right thing to do being closer to sitcoms and the movie
business but on a deeper, more subconscious level, I knew
I needed to go back to Southern California to reclaim
what I had left behind there over twenty years before.
And boy was I in for the ride of my life.
acting class, I realized that I wasn't able to pull up
certain emotions that the script called for so I had to
examine why. That lead me to therapy which forced me to
examine my addictive personality, my relationship and
the little boy who lives inside of me.
The week of my 40th birthday
I was in Times Square, New York City for the unveiling
of Madame Tussaud's wax replica in my likeness. Over a
period of two years, I posed six times for the team at
Madame Tussaud but it didn't occur to me until the unveiling
how weird it is too see yourself three-dimensionally and
on top of that realize this portrait will be around long
after I turned to dust.
achieved most of my professional goals, it was time for
me to put the emphasis on my spiritual evolution. More
than ever, I wanted to be present for myself, my family
and my friends. Over the next several years, I created
a nurturing home life. I threw dinner parties, backyard
barbecues, game nights, pool parties, you name it. I had
a lot of fun just being me... laughing, dancing, hiking,
biking, and dating.
I worked from time to
time, but I turned down more offers than I accepted (including
the role of Frank-N-Furter on Broadway in "The Rocky Horror
Show"). Plus, I wasn't too keen on doing any of the mean-spirited
"reality shows" or talking head "clip shows" that constantly
made inquiries to my office. To make up for my absence
from the pop-culture scene, I began writing an online
journal. My weblog gave fans an opportunity to experience
me on a personal level.
by the upcoming presidential election and the religious
right-wing, I decided to return to public life. I had
come very close to hanging up my high heels forever and
just letting my legacy speak for itself, but ultimately,
I felt my presence was needed as a true example of freedom.
While promoting "RuPaul Red Hot," my first studio album
in 7 years, I was offered a job doing morning radio with
Michelle Visage in New York City. Michelle and I jumped
at the opportunity to work together again, which also
meant we'd have to leave Los Angeles, where we had both
been living for several years.
Manhattan had changed
dramatically since I'd left in '98, and so had I. Adjusting
to the lack of edginess and the abundance of baby strollers
in Greenwich Village wasn't easy, but change is a given
that I've learned to welcome. I spent pretty much every
weekend of 2005 in a different city around the world performing
my nightclub act. I was welcomed with a new enthusiasm
from kids who had grown up watching me on television.
In July, "The RuPaul Doll" was unveiled, and has sold
beyond my wildest expectations. We started shooting principle
photography for "Starrbooty: Reloaded" in November. The
movie's greatest coup was luring LaHoma Van Zant out of
a 9 year retirement to costar in the film.
June 13th, the second album on RuCo Records, was released.
"RuPaul. ReWorked" is a collection of dance remixes from
my music repertoire. It includes re-recordings of "SuperModel"
& "Free To Be," which are better than the originals. The
soundtrack album for "Starrbooty: Reloaded" will be released
with the movie.