AUSTIN (KXAN) - Austin icon Albert Leslie Cochran, better known as simply "Leslie," would have turned 61 years old Sunday, and people turned out to honor him throughout the weekend during what organizers called "Leslie Fest."
Cochran died on March 8 after more than two years of declining health.
He personified the "Keep Austin Weird" concept with his thongs and high heels. He was also, of course, a major advocate for the homeless in Austin and even ran for mayor.
"He, kind of who he was in that regard, you know, [Leslie would say] 'This is who I am. This is what I'm doing, and I am proud of it,'" said Lipstick 24 Co-Owner Juli Phillips. "That is what we all took from Leslie."
The festival helped raise money for Hospice Austin's Christopher House.
"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
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 in February, 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."
"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."
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