I was born on 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!”
1961:: 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.
1962:: My first memory is that of my mother giving my new sister “Rozy” a bath in the kitchen sink. She didn’t break her arm. I was the only boy. My older sisters Renae and Renetta are twins born twenty-six minutes apart.
1964:: I saw “The Supremes” on the Ed Sullivan TV show. I fell in love with them, particularly, the skinny one in the middle.
1965:: 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.
1966:: 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.
1967:: The 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.
1968:: 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.
1969:: The twins ran away from home. Momma says she threw them out. They were 15 years old.
1970:: 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.
1971:: I got shit-faced drunk for the first time and smoked my first joint.
1972:: 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.
1975:: Ninth 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”.
1976:: 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 driver’s license on my b-day and was off and running. I was having the time of my life! To 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.
1977:: The 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.” Every day 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 to school. 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, that 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 life! Years 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.
1978:: 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 the night. I’d switch on the cruise control, light up a joint and blast Donna Summer’s “Live and More” album.1978 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 have so swept away, that my knees buckled.
1979:: 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.
1980:: In 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 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 and charming and up until then, he was the most adventurous person I had ever met.
1981:: 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. While 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 features a weird cast of social misfits. It was very politically irreverent, funny, sick, and 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.
1982:: 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 “B52s” and part of the “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” was replaced by Gina Smith and Chrissie Thorpe, two full-figure colored gals with lots of attitudes 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.
1983:: After 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 year.
1984:: After 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 Park.
1985:: 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 “Mr. Totally.” Soon 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.
1986:: 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 countless strings of movies that Wayne wrote 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.”
1987:: In 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!!!
1988:: 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.
1989:: In 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 sexier. My new look got the attention of different promoters and I became a hot “new” act. I worked non-stop as a lip-sync/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 DJs at the annual event. I had reached the pinnacle of success in downtown nightlife.
1990:: 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 really 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.
1991:: The 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 rice. Floyd 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.
1992:: I had become very close with Mathu and Zaldy during a Suzanne 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” was released.
1993:: By 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 of 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.” Mama and I both looked at each other, and at 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.
1994:: 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 I was 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, “Sure.”It was the same scenario when Arsenio, Spike Lee, and a Canadian named “Mac” called.
1995:: 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 for me. Over 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.
1996:: 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.
1997:: When 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.
1998:: I wasn’t sure why I moved back to California. On the surface, it seemed like the right thing to do is 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.
1999:: In 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.
2000:: 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 to see yourself three-dimensionally and on top of that realize this portrait will be around long after I turned to dust.
2001:: Having achieved most of my professional goals, it was time for me to put 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.
2004:: Inspired 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.
2005:: 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 new enthusiasm by 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” in November. The movie’s greatest coup was luring LaHoma Van Zant out of a 9-year retirement to costar in the film.
2006:: On 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. On weekends, I would tour the country with my “RuPaul. ReWorked” night club act while during the week, I would ride my bicycle out to Queens and later up to Harlem to oversee the post-production on “Starrbooty – The Movie.” 14-hour work days and riding my bicycle became the greatest sources of joy in my life, which is kind of sad when you think about it. The experience gave me a newfound respect for all filmmakers. Whether the movie is good or bad, I got nothin’ but love for you baby.
2007:: After 17 months of post-production, “Starrbooty” premiered before a standing-room-only crowd at the New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The movie was an instant hit and subsequent screenings in San Francisco, Philly, and Los Angeles garnered rave reviews and sold-out crowds. In the summer of ‘07, I also unveiled my Starrbooty night club act which has wowed audiences from Stockholm to Sacramento. On October 30th, the DVD of “Starrbooty” the movie was released and is being sold in all major outlets.
2008:: The “Starrbooty Tour” had me performing in 25 different hotspots around the world including The Canary Islands, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Johannesburg, and Las Vegas, just to name a few. When I wasn’t traveling, I split my time between New York City and Los Angeles, as I chose to become bi-curious again (tee hee). Truth is, I took up residence in Hollywood because I wanted to return to television. My gamble paid off and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was born. Not only will my new TV show premiere in 2009, but so will my new album entitled “Champion”