The untold truth of RuPaul

He's arguably the world's most famous drag queen, but how well do you really know RuPaul Andre Charles, better known simply as RuPaul? From a tense childhood, to partying in the '80s and finding fame in the '90s, RuPaul has lived a life most people will never experience. Here are some of his most pivotal moments.

His childhood was 'tumultuous'

In various interviews over the years, RuPaul has opened up about the many struggles he faced growing up in a "tumultuous" family home. "[They were] crazy hillbilly people," RuPaul told BuzzFeed in 2015. "It was a war zone."

In 2012, Rolling Stone reported that RuPaul's mother would often try to get her philandering husband's attention in extreme ways—like, you know, by "dousing his car in gasoline and taunting him with a book of matches." RuPaul said his mother "was a bad b**ch," who split from his father when he was just a kid. "Everyone in the neighborhood called her Mean Miss Charles, and I said, 'No, she's not mean, she's just direct."

But it wound up shaping his career

RuPaul's volatile childhood wound up having a profound impact on his career. "My parents were these hillbillies from Louisiana who were wrapped up in this wild psychodrama with each other," he told Billboard magazine. "So us kids—me being the middle child—had to be a diplomat, and had to read the situation to figure out what was needed at that time."

"It's a survival technique. I've used that technique throughout my life," he said, adding that it's come in handy on his hit reality show, RuPaul's Drag Race. "These girls come, and they want to become America's Next Drag Superstar—and I am America's First Drag Superstar [laughs]—so I help guide them through these challenges, and through the changes that go on psychologically inside, and that's where those coping tools come into play, that I learned from early childhood, with these crazy hillbilly parents."

He worked briefly as a used-car salesman

According to a profile in The New York Times, RuPaul, at age 15, moved to Atlanta with his sister, Renetta, and her husband, who got RuPaul a job as a used-car salesman. The profile notes that Atlanta was a major turning point for the teen. It was there that he gave himself a "dragucation" by go-go dancing in nightclubs, emceeing events, and performing on public access television.

He contemplated suicide

Hoping to achieve fame beyond the Atlanta circuit, RuPaul moved to New York City in the '80s. Although his clubbing and partying days included run-ins with Madonna and Andy Warhol, it took him years to actually find his footing. "I moved to New York in 1984," he told he New York Post, "sleeping on couches or on the piers…" By New Year's Eve of 1987, RuPaul told Rolling Stone, "I was working coat check at a party at the Hotel Amazon down at Rivington. And I thought, 'Here I am, superstar RuPaul, working in coat check!'"

The magazine writes that RuPaul, at age 28, moved to Los Angeles to live with another sister. It was there, "couch-surfing and careerless, amid long-standing habits of drinking and toking and weekly tripping, he ended up contemplating suicide." RuPaul claims the one thing that helped get him out of his funk was watching The Oprah Winfrey Show.

1989 was a pivotal year

According to Rolling Stone, RuPaul returned to New York in January 1989, at a time when "drag realness, true lady-impersonating" was dominating the gay scene. At that point, he knew what he had to do to make it big. "[Drag] was a great social commentary, and people responded to me in drag like I never experienced before," he told the magazine.

RuPaul found tremendous success throughout that year. According to The New York Times, he appeared in the music video for The B-52s' "Love Shack" and was voted "Queen of Manhattan" by a panel of club owners, promoters and disc jockeys, but he still wanted to achieve more. "I said, 'O.K., now I'm ready to get real and go for broke," he told the Times. He quit partying, upgraded his look to "cover-girl glam," and recorded a music demo. The Times says he landed a record deal "within a year."

He laid low for years

Although the '90s brought success after success for RuPaul, including a hit single, "Supermodel", a talk show, and a campaign with MAC Cosmetics, things began to slow down around the year 2000. Speaking to Rolling Stone, RuPaul claimed a lot of that had to do with the anxieties he felt during George W. Bush's presidency and the post-9/11 era. "Post-9/11, there was a hostile fear that had taken over the country," he said. "When that happened, anything to do with gender or sexual exploration went way underground. So I decided I would step away from the canvas, so to speak, in terms of show business."

According to The New York Times, RuPaul spent many of those years "hosting barbecues in his West Hollywood home and getting to know his nieces and nephews." He plotted his comeback around 2007, with the help of his friend and longtime collaborator, Randy Barbato, now one of the executive producers of RuPaul's Drag Race.

He's obsessed with Judge Judy

Given his larger-than-life personality, it should come as no surprise that RuPaul is totally in love with TV's Judge Judy Sheindlin. "The only person who interests me in pop culture right now is Judge Judy. That's it," RuPaul told Vulture in 2016. "Because of the realness—she has kept the story of mankind. There's a certain decorum and civility that keeps our society together, and it has crumbled so much in the past, really, 20 years."

"But when you watch her [reality courtroom show] during that hour in the afternoon, she has remembered it and is saying, 'No! We do it like this,'" he said. "And I love it! She remembers the rules of civility. Because if you've gotten to the point where you need to go to court to figure out what to do, then you've lost your right to be cocky. You need someone. You need a mediator. And she's that person."

He doesn't think drag will ever become mainstream

Although drag culture has received major media attention in the last few years, due in great part to the Emmy-nominated RuPaul's Drag Race, the show's namesake still isn't convinced drag will ever become mainstream. "It will never be mainstream. It's the antithesis of mainstream," he told Vulture. "And listen, what you're witnessing with drag is the most mainstream it will get. But it will never be mainstream, because it is completely opposed to fitting in."

Don't expect RuPaul to become mainstream, either. "I've never been on Ellen or David Letterman or The Tonight Show, and there's a reason for that, which I don't want to go into, but there's a reason that I've never been thought of as someone who can go on there," he said. "Because it makes those hosts feel very, very uncomfortable, especially if we really talked. It would be the opposite of what they're used to. So am I part of the mainstream? No. People know my name, people know what I look like, but am I invited to the party? No, and there's a reason for it."

He has a long-term partner

In a 2012 interview with Access Hollywood, RuPaul revealed that he's had an on-again off-again partner for years. "There's a man…we were committed for many years. We split up, but we've never really quite split up," he said. "He is the love of my life. He has a ranch in Wyoming."

"As you get older, you realize that sort of the form that relationships take on, ones you grew up with, you grow out of that. You become more relaxed," he continued. "He is my partner for life, but if I need to have burnt toast with another gentleman other than Jimmy and Judge Judy, then so be it."

The New York Times later identified the man as Georges LeBar, whom RuPaul reportedly sees "about every two months."