The journey for RuPaul to become the face of drag hasn’t been an easy one, but he’s worked hard and become an inspiration for millions of people across the globe.
RuPaul Charles was born on November 17, 1960, in San Diego, California, to mother Ernestine “Toni” Charles and father Irving Charles – therefore he was not adopted. Some people may get his story confused with his longtime friend Michelle Visage, who was adopted and met her biological mother later in life.
What else can we uncover about RuPaul’s childhood and journey to the top? Keep reading to discover more about RuPaul’s life and legacy.
A Tumultuous Upbringing
Growing up in San Diego, Ru had quite a rough childhood when his parents divorced in ‘67. He ended up living with his mom and sisters but still had to deal with the trauma of the “war” going on between his parents.
“My parents were always at war,” he said in a trailer for his Masterclass series. “So my thinking was: ‘This is all too much for me, just wake me when it’s done.’”
In 2018, Ru opened up about the departure of his father. “He wouldn’t show up. And through years of therapy, all roads lead to that one moment. And I created an identity around that hurt. Looking back, it actually is something that I had to work through and that has made me stronger.”
Speaking to close friend Michelle Visage on his growing up in his hometown, Rupaul said:
“It kind of still is [a bubble], it’s a vacation place, a military place, but it is very conservative, Republican, and when I was growing up it was super, super white.”
“So I used to go up to the thrifty drugstore and read magazines, interview magazines, about New York and Studio 54 and all that stuff, and I’d think ‘I need to get there quick fast and in a hurry!’ I knew that I had to leave San Diego to find my tribe,” he added.
Chasing His Dreams
At 15 years old, Charles decided to make the move with one of his sisters to Atlanta. He wanted to delve into the world of performing arts, but he struggled to find his footing at first.
In order to make some money, he had to work as a salesman for used cars. That didn’t stop him from exploring the nightclub scene though, which he did to improve his knowledge of the entertainment arena.
When talking about his inspiration to become a star like Cher and Diana Ross, Rupaul said to Interview Magazine:
“I set out to do that in a rock-‘n’-roll band in Atlanta, Georgia. That led me to nightclubs and to the sort of Andy Warhol experience of creating a personality.”
He got a job at the Plaza Theatre and managed to land a spot on The American Music Show in 1982, which was a variety show on public access television in Atlanta.
In addition to working on the show, he appeared in some underground cinema productions, performed at the Celebrity Club, and worked as a backup singer for Glen Meadmore.
Following his ventures in Atlanta, Ru decided that New York City would be the place to really make his dreams happen. He moved his life there in 1984 and got his first taste of national recognition when he was an extra for The B-52’s in their “Love Shack” video.
Destined to Be a Star
Like many people who aspire to breakthrough in the entertainment world, Ru faced many challenges while trying to make a name for himself in New York.
When he did have some money in the beginning, he could stay at the Jane West Hotel and got some go-go dancing gigs.
Soon enough, he found himself couch-surfing and had to move to Los Angeles to live with a sister.
“It was good for me going back home because I got to recharge my battery and understand what it is I want to go out there and do in the first place. I guess my battery had gotten weak, and I got back there and I said, ‘You know, I’m special, I’m wonderful, I have a great personality’,” he told Oprah in 1995.
While things were difficult for Ru, he kept pushing, and eventually came out with his own album, Supermodel of the World in the ‘90s. The single “Supermodel (You Better Work)” was a massive hit, and he never looked back from there.