Renowned Fixture Of Austin Streets Dies

An Austin, Texas, icon has died. Leslie Cochran was a cross-dressing peace activist and homeless advocate. Many say Cochran was the epitome of the slogan, "keep Austin weird."

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Austin last week, an unlikely civic symbol passed away. He was a cross-dressing homeless man who lived on the kindness of strangers, but he was much more than that, according to NPR's John Burnett.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: On a fine Sunday afternoon, Austinites gather in a riverside park to remember Leslie Cochran.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please, you all, write a little short Leslie story. His family's going to be reading them.

BURNETT: He was a fixture on the sidewalks of this capital city in his bushy beard, tiara, thong and falsies. Leslie, as he was universally called, became a symbol of the eccentricity and rakishness that people celebrate in this fun-loving techie boom town.

Now, Leslie is gone. Mourners at the memorial donned rhinestone tiaras and feather boas in his honor. A young man who gave his name as Ozzie Zion went a step further, stuffing himself into a bikini bottom.

OZZIE ZION: This is what Leslie would have done today and I hope that I'm as hung over as he would have been on a Sunday afternoon.

BURNETT: When Leslie died at age 60 in a local hospice last Thursday due to complications from a head wound, the mayor proclaimed it Leslie Day. Leslie Cochran himself ran for mayor in 2000, appearing around town dressed like a stripper and holding hand-lettered campaign signs.

Linda Eldridge and Lee Modern(ph) came down to remember him.

LINDA ELDRIDGE: Halloween on 6th Street, everybody loved taking pictures with him and...

LEE MODERN: He was always goofing around, you know, throwing his leg over people's laps and stuff like that.

BURNETT: Leslie became something of an activist against police mistreatment of the homeless. He made tips posing for photos with revelers in the tavern districts around town. He also earned a portion of the profits from the sales of Leslie refrigerator magnets. You can dress him in his favorite outfits, including an orange and white UT cheerleader uniform. He did not earn anything from the Leslie iPhone app.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: House the homeless. Take me home.

BURNETT: Now, the inevitable question. What does Leslie Cochran's demise mean for this fast evolving city that embraces weirdness? Clearly, there's no one to fill his high heels.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Heaven just got a lot more weird. Whoo!

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We love you, Leslie!

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