Early Years in Atlanta
Entertainer RuPaul was born RuPaul Andre Charles on November 17, 1960, in San Diego, California. His parents divorced when RuPaul was seven, and he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, with his sister and her husband during his teens. RuPaul was the only boy of his parents’ four children, and eventually began wearing his sisters’ clothes and exploring cross-dressing, emulating stars like Diana Ross and Jane Fonda in his youth.
In Atlanta, RuPaul attended the Northside School of Performing Arts, and although he didn’t graduate, it was a big step toward getting his feet wet in the world of performance and, in the end, show business. In 1982, RuPaul took the next step and sent a photo of himself to a local TV program called The American Music Show, asking to appear on air. Before long, he was appearing on the series regularly, often with his newly formed band, RuPaul and the U-Hauls.
Wigstock and Hit Song ‘Supermodel (You Better Work)’
RuPaul and the U-Hauls broke up before too long, and Wee Wee Pole was formed in its place, performing around Atlanta. RuPaul also made his first move into acting during this period, appearing in uncredited roles in a series of low-budget movies. While these appearances didn’t help RuPaul climb the ladder of fame, he was never short on ideas to further his career. In one such push, RuPaul sold pictures of himself as postcards and created little booklets with self-penned witticisms and anecdotes.
In the mid-1980s, the quite statuesque RuPaul left the South and headed to New York City and became part of a new festival known as Wigstock. He, his Atlanta roommate Lady Bunny (who launched Wigstock) and others would perform in drag primarily in the East Village area, with the festival eventually growing. RuPaul's flamboyance and ease on stage made him a hit club dancer, and by the end of the decade he was dubbed the Queen of New York.
In 1991, RuPaul was signed to a recording contract by Tommy Boy Records, and two years later his debut album, Supermodel of the World, appeared. He found a hit with the single “Supermodel (You Better Work),” which reached the Top 50 of the pop charts and No. 2 on the dance club charts. RuPaul would remain a club fixture over the years with other hits like “Snapshot” and “WorkOut.” A 1993 duet with Elton John on a remake of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” also drew attention, becoming a U.K. Top 10 hit.
Reality Show ‘Drag Race’
In 1994, RuPaul made his feature film debut in Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, and a new facet of his performing career was launched. A string of roles would follow, including on TV shows such as Sister Sister and In the House and in films such as The Brady Bunch Movie, Blue in the Face and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (all in 1995 alone). That same year, RuPaul saw his autobiography Lettin’ It All Hang Out published and he also signed on as a model with MAC cosmetics. RuPaul next landed his own TV talk show, aptly titled The RuPaul Show, which ran until 1998.
While acting continually on TV, RuPaul never stopped recording music, with albums like Ho Ho Ho (1997), Red Hot (2004) and Reworked (2006) keeping fans happy. Despite success in music and film, RuPaul really made his mark on the cultural landscape with the 2009 debut of his long-running reality TV competition RuPaul's Drag Race, along with its later variations such as All Stars and Untucked! In 2016 and 2017 he won Emmys for his work on Drag Race. The season 9 premiere featured Lady Gaga and with close to one million viewers tuning in, became the most viewed episode in the show's history.
RuPaul’s solo album Slay Belles was released in 2015, and his new game show, Gay for Play, premiered in April 2016. Never one to sit on his laurels, RuPaul released three albums the following year: Remember Me: Essential, Vol. 1 ‐ and later, Vol. 2 ‐ as well as his eleventh studio album American.
RuPaul married his longtime partner, Australian painter Georges LeBar, in January 2017.
In March 2018, RuPaul was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, thereby becoming the first drag queen to receive the honor. Following an introductory speech by Fonda, one of his early inspirations, he tearfully told the audience that this was “absolutely the most important moment in my professional career.”
November 17, 1960
- RuPaul tells a lot of amazing stories about her mother. In a 2013 interview with US Weekly, Ru said that her Louisiana-born mother Ernestine “Toni” Charles came up with the “Ru” half of RuPaul “from roux, which is the term for the base of gumbo and other [Creole] stews and soups.”
- In the ‘80s, RuPaul was a struggling musician and filmmaker. According to a story published by The Bitter Southerner, “in Atlanta, RuPaul often performed at the Celebrity Club as a bar dancer or with his band, Wee Wee Pole.” Ru also performed as a backup singer for Glen Meadmore with fellow queen bee Vaginal Davis.
- In 1985, RuPaul recorded an album for Funtone called Sex Freak. Years later in an interview, he revealed that he regretted the title. He said it was “meant to say that I am a sexual oddity, an androgyne. People saw it as… I'm a… freak for sex.”
- RuPaul once had a cameo on Walker, Texas Ranger. No, seriously, check it out: Season 7, Episode 3, “Royal Heist.” She played a dude named Bob, and the whole episode is about gangs.
- 1989 was a weird year. The B-52s released their smash hit “Love Shack,” which featured none other than RuPaul as a dancing extra. The video was wildly popular and helped launch Ru's rise to stardom.
- In 1989, RuPaul was voted the “Queen of Manhattan” by the downtown club glitterati after gaining some notoriety working the club scene for years. She once told Rolling Stone that it was “a great social commentary, and people responded to me in drag like I never experienced before.”
- In 1996, Ru became a spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics and helped raise money for the VIVA GLAM Mac AIDS Fund. This feat made Ru the first drag queen to land a major cosmetics campaign.