AUSTIN (KXAN) - Albert Leslie Cochran, the thong-wearing street person who became the living embodiment of the city's "Keep Austin Weird" slogan, died Thursday morning after more than two years of declining health.
He was 60.
"Leslie lived outside the box," said friend Christine Ann, a South Austin merchant. "He exemplified that, but also spoke ... passionately that we not take ourselves too seriously. And Leslie, of course, never did."
Leslie, photographs and memories
The Austin City Council on Thursday will observe a moment of silence in Cochran's memory during its morning meeting. The council is expected to declare an official "Leslie" day in the future.
Cochran's life on the streets began while in his 30s after suffering a major head injury from a motorcycle accident in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
He was an Austin fixture for more than two decades. For years, he patrolled the area of Congress Avenue and Sixth Street, often pushing an oversized cart containing his belongings and adorned with hand-crafted signs and slogans.
Later, he moved his unofficial headquarters to South First Street. Yet as ubiquitous as he was, much of Austin knew little about Cochran or how he acquired his now-familiar name and reputation.
"He's highly intelligent, and sometimes highly intelligent people are strange," Cochran's sister, Alice Cochran Masterson of Florida, said in an October 2009 interview. "My father had an extremely high IQ, and he kind of inherited that high IQ. And he has a good heart."
Cochran was born June 24, 1951, the oldest boy in a family of six children. He grew up in Dade County, Fla., and had an identical twin brother who died at birth, his sister said.
Masterson said in the 2009 interview that her brother was a brilliant boy, but always spoke with a strong stutter -- something he dealt with throughout childhood and early adulthood, Masterson said.
"He never could speak clearly," she said. "He grew up stuttering."
After high school, Cochran attended the University of Florida-Tallahassee for two years, Masterson said.
The young Cochran was a free spirit who had served in the Naval Reserve, drove trucks on the West Coast and lived for a time in Colorado. He worked as disc jockey. And he was married for a brief period.
Cochran had an affinity for Western movies and TV shows and had once been known as "Trapper," a nickname he was given because he would cure the meat and tan the hides of road-kill game.
He bounced around the country for several years before settling in Austin, where he became known simply as "Leslie." The persona included wearing lacy bras, boas and glittering thongs. Many of his handmade signs advocated for the rights of Austin's homeless.
Three times Cochran's name appeared on the ballot for Austin mayor -- and once he finished as high as second.
He even appeared on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," where he was interviewed as one of Austin's many characters. He was wearing a thong -- on national television.
Friends said life for Cochran changed after the 2009 incident that put him in the hospital.
On Oct. 3 of that year, he was seen acting oddly on the sidewalk less than an hour after midnight. Then, Cochran apparently fell in front of a taxi. When EMS arrived, medics said he was already unconscious. He underwent brain surgery and remained under care for several weeks.
Just before re-entering the hospital last month, Cochran spoke of returning to Colorado. He said Austin no longer appreciated his presence. Friends attributed the sentiment to Cochran's declining health.
But, they added, Austin will not soon forget Cochran's influence on the city.
"He will be remembered as the icon of weird, the ambassador of weirdness, if you will," said friend Christine Ann. "As an Austin icon."
Another memory shared is from Whitney Lawson.
"I am one of many people living in Austin who is blind," Lawson said. "Leslie was always very helpful to me, as well as many other disabled people. He always made sure we were okay when navigating the streets of downtown and always lent a helping hand and a hug. The last time I saw him was on a CapMetro bus on SoCo on his birthday in June. The driver had us sing Happy Birthday to him. He will be missed."
Recognizing Leslie's "colorfulness," Mirta Foster recalled the first time she saw Leslie on South Congress Avenue.
"I first saw Leslie from the back, on South Congress wearing a black string bikini, matching strappy platform shoes, and a long blonde wig. I said, 'Wow look at that chick!' and then was quite surprised when HE turned around! Austin will be a little less colorful without Leslie standing on the corner," Foster said.
A public tribute for Cochran is schedule for 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday in the Colonial Chapel at Cook-Walden
Funeral Home, 6100 N. Lamar Blvd. A recitation of the Rosary will follow.
The family requests this to be a dignified occasion of remembrance and prayer.
"Leslie was a compassionate soul who respected and loved everyone," his family said in a statement. "We will forever be in debt to the people of the city of Austin for the love and respect you showed him."
The funeral and burial at Cook-Walden Capital Park Cemetery will be private.
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