1960 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!”
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 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.
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 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.
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.” 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 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, 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 was so swept away, 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 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.
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 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.
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 “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.
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 a countless string 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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
1992 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” 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 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.
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 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, “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 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.
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 marriage 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 too see yourself three-dimensionally and on top of that realize this portrait will be around long after I turned to dust.
2001 A&E Biography approached me only days after I agreed to participate in a profile on my life for the Bravo Network. I told A&E the timing was odd but they didn’t mind that someone had beaten them to the punch; they wanted to do it anyway. I said fine. I don’t know what I thinking, having two different networks doing a biopsy/autopsy on my life at the same time? I must have been crazy. The experience was akin to attending not one but two of your own funerals. Of the two profiles, I watched only one of them and it put me into a month-long depression. The positive outcome of the experience is that maybe some kid, not unlike myself at 10 years old in San Diego, got to see these shows and was inspired by them.
Now I’m free to move on to act three of my life.