So J.T. LeRoy was a major presence in my life for a few weeks. And then, poof!, he was gone. Occasionally, if I’m going through my address book to advance a show, or helping to disseminate a hilarious SNL rap song, I’ll run across his LeTerminator e-mail address and wonder about him. His books were the kind that I would buy over and over again only to give them to friends after having had a little too much wine. “Oh my God, Liz, you have to read this book!” Pontificating wildly about my secret, special discovery, I would wonder what he’s up to now. Is he writing a new book? Is he rich? Or has he squandered what must have been a publishing fortune on drugs and wigs?
As it turns out, J.T. LeRoy does not exist. “He” is a she. A real she named Savannah Knoop, the kid sister of a former (failed) ’90s alt-rocker named Geoffrey Knoop. His wife, Laura Albert, is thought to be the true author of the books. They created the character of J.T. after years of heartbreak in the treacherous music biz, and once the LeRoy ruse was accepted and embraced by the literary world they turned the enterprise into a family industry — churning out books and articles, and growing a legend. Because J.T. was such a notoriously reclusive figure, people were happy to just bask in his (very rare) presence at parties and photo shoots, even if his identity was always masked by huge sunglasses, kooky wigs, and ill-fitting clothes that left little visible in terms of an actual human. Sure, there was suspicious chatter, but nobody ever seriously asked whether the whole thing was a load of crap.
The New York Times finally busted the Knoops when they turned in inconsistent receipts for a travel piece supposedly being written by J.T. At that point, the whole tale began to unravel. My first thought upon hearing the revelation was: “Why, oh why, did I not think of this?!” And then I got a little sad and kind of confused. I am no stranger to being duped. I’m so gullible that I once made a bet with someone who told me that the word gullible could not be found in the dictionary. (I went home and looked it up. I was 28 at the time. Jesus Christ.) Yet I could not help but feel as if someone had died ... or, more important, that someone had killed J.T. LeRoy.
Now, if you ask me, it is actual lying, not the heart, that is deceitful above all things.
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