When news broke in Austin last month that Leslie, the cross-dressing homeless man, mayoral candidate, and symbol of “weird” Austin, would be leaving town for Colorado, the metaphorical implications weren’t hard to miss–the same sidewalks Leslie once roamed wearing a thong and falsies now sit in front of celebrated fancy restaurants, pricey retail shops, and tall condominiums, and much like Las Manitas, Liberty Lunch, and Little City, it appears Leslie’s time was coming to an end, and he’d be taking some of Austin’s weirdness with him.
Tragically, that symbolism took a potentially literal turn, as Leslie Cochran (the mononymous icon does have a last name, though locals never call him by his full name), suffered a grave injury before he was able to leave town (according to Patrick Beach of the Austin American-Statesman, he was planning to take an Amtrak to Colorado, and apparently lacked government ID). Neurologically impaired since a 2009 assault, Cochran suffered another head injury after falling in a parking lot in South Austin a couple of weeks back.
Updates have been posted by his friend Deb Russell at the Love for Leslie Facebook page, which also features other comments that offer both a glimpse into what Leslie means to people who don’t know him, and a sweet, sobering reminder that he was also someone people actually knew and loved in everyday life beyond his role as local color.
According to a blog post by Russell, after being taken to the hospital Cochran:
…regained consciousness briefly, then showed signs of brain hemorrhaging, and yet again (the 4th time in 30 years) underwent brain surgerySeveral of his close friends, including myself, were summoned to the hospital believing they were about to be helping Leslie pass on…One close friend shared with us her appreciation for Leslie’s lessons regarding what “home” means; when asked where his home was, he’d say “Austin.” But Leslie is a philosopher. He’d teach others that the traditional idea of “home” is limited. He said people put up “walls” when thinking in these terms. Leslie helped many among us break down those walls a little.
…consciousness, however, is not a sign of improvement in his overall health. He has challenges beyond his brain injuries, and Leslie is making his own choices right now about his future.Leslie is visibly pleased when told of all the good wishes people are sending him. He is now surrounded by several “poster-cards” hung in his room, signed by many Austinites and city leaders (including the Mayor, council, police and fire chiefs) over the past several days. Comments include get-well-wishes, blessings and that “Austin misses you” and “is not the same without” him being out and about. The word “icon” is mentioned several times. One note was written by a south Austin 10 year old who relayed a story about how Leslie had visited their house and gave their dog a dog biscuit.
Cochran’s friends are holding several online auctions at another “Love for Leslie” website. There are several items up for sale, including this life-size (five foot by seven foot) portrait by artist Michael David Peschka: