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Leslie Jordan’s friends, family and fans came together this weekend to remember the beloved actor.
After a private funeral Sunday afternoon in Jordan’s hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, more than 2,000 people gathered for the Love. Light. Leslie. public memorial that benefited Cempa Community Care, a local organization offering medical treatment and services to people living with HIV.
Mayor Tim Kelly opened the event with a video message, calling Jordan “one of Chattanooga’s brightest stars.”
Jordan’s sister Jana Lynn “Cricket” Jordan took the stage, choking up as she spoke about her brother. “We knew, we knew how special Leslie was gonna be from the time he was tiny,” she recalled. “Mama used to say, ‘He would go by the nativity set, and he’d see Joseph and Mary, and he’d say, “Hey Joe.”‘ It was just Leslie. He brought such light and love to everyone.”
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In keeping with Jordan’s lifelong love for Christian hymns, the memorial featured several gospel songs by the Hunker Downers. The group’s name not only paid homage to the star’s pandemic-era Instagram presence, it was also led by Jordan’s musical collaborators Danny Myrick and Travis Howard, who produced his 2021 album Company’s Comin’.
“Any of you guys who’ve ever had a chance to spend any time with him [know],” said Myrick of Jordan, “any room he walked in was his room. … I love the idea that this guy who was an actor and a comedian who played so many roles — including one he won an Emmy for, he was so good at it — but what he really, really blew up for the last few year was just being Leslie Jordan.”
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Sordid Lives writer Del Shores emceed the event, echoing that thought as he reflected on a decades-long friendship with Jordan.
“I loved seeing the fame,” Shores said. “I loved seeing him get what he deserved — that the whole world saw what we saw so many years ago.”
Video memorials for Jordan came from far and wide, including a message from Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, who called Jordan “one of the brightest lights I ever witnessed. He was joyful, inclusive, inspiring, and his limitless energy was truly contagious. We are all so blessed to have had him on this planet. If only we had had him longer.”
Beau Bridges also sent in a tribute: “With a great big smile and a wonderful open heart, Leslie brought joy to me and to all of us. And I’m so happy that I got to know you. You will always be my friend.”
Delta Burke called working with Jordan “one of the highlights of my career. … I remember telling people, ‘That man deserves an Oscar.’ You were brilliant — brilliant. You made millions of people happy. And you had a big heart, and you are so missed.”
Friend, costar and producer Emerson Collins credited Jordan with teaching him to live “not a perfect life, but a life that is loud and proud and full of joy and forgiveness and laughter.”
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“Part of his charm,” Jordan’s longtime partner affirmed in a written statement, “was that he never understood what made him so great.”
Cempa Chattanooga CEO Shannon Stephenson urged attendees to “love like Leslie. Leslie loved without judgment, which is something that we strive to do each and every single day. When someone asked him about his religion — and I’m paraphrasing — he said, ‘The religion that I embrace is kindness.’ … He brought us light in the midst of one of the darkest times in our lives today. That’s who he was. He was a light for all. Simply put, Leslie rescued us all. How lucky are we that each of us got to know him as a friend?”
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Jordan, 67, died in a car crash on Oct. 24 after suffering an apparent medical emergency. After PEOPLE confirmed the news, it was announced on his official Instagram later that day.
Jordan was most famous for scene-stealing roles including his portrayal of Beverley Leslie in Will & Grace, which earned him a 2006 Primetime Emmy for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series.
He appeared in movies and TV series including The Help, Murphy Brown, Ugly Betty, Boston Public and American Horror Story. He was starring in Fox’s Call Me Kat at the time of his death.
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Stephenson told the crowd on Sunday: “May your memories bring you peace, strength and comfort — and just know that there is a great big world out there that mourns with you today.”
The memorial ended with Jordan’s own voice singing the closing words from the final song of Company’s Comin’: “Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by.”