RuPaul's Pop Culture Highlights
Few drag performers have impacted pop culture the way RuPaul has. Before the March 24 season 9 premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1, check out 13 of the Emmy-winning actor, singer, and activist’s best pop culture moments, ahead.
Released "Supermodel (You Better Work)" in 1992
After establishing himself as a staple on the New York City club scene, RuPaul shot to international fame with his hit single “Supermodel (You Better Work),” which reached No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992. The song’s memorable lyrics (including signature phrases like “sashay, shantay!”) cemented the track as a go-to, crossover dance anthem.
Spoke Out Against His 1993 MTV VMAs Appearance With Milton Berle
Ever an outspoken champion of LGBT rights, RuPaul didn’t stay quiet about his altercation with Milton Berle at the 1993 MTV VMAs. After Berle allegedly mistreated RuPaul backstage before they were set to make an on-camera appearance together at the annual awards show, the television legend proceeded to grope one of Mama Ru’s breasts and refer to him as a “she-he” as a stunned audience looked on. After a heated exchange in front of the cameras, Ru told reporters backstage that he was angry about the pairing, and that “a lot of the bad jokes were scripted by Uncle Milty.” He continued: “I don’t know why they paired me with him. I think it’s so tired. It’s the obvious, it’s just tired. Give me something fresh. I thought this was going to be a music revolution.”
Performed “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” Duet With Elton John in 1994
Elton John’s Kiki Dee-assisted single “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” received a major facelift for its re-release. The pop superstar recorded a new version for his 1994 album Duets, replacing Dee’s vocals with RuPaul’s. The duo also filmed a music video for the remixed track, which sees them singing the tune over updated dance production.
Appeared in the 1995 Documentary Wigstock
A chronicle of New York City’s popular drag festival held between 1984 and 2001, Barry Shils’ 1995 documentary Wigstock featured a show-stopping performance by RuPaul at the height of his mainstream breakthrough.
Appeared in The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel
While his work as a drag performer has largely defined his career, RuPaul also landed several memorable big-screen roles as an actor across his time in the spotlight. He notably appeared in a pair of comedic Brady Bunch movies released in 1995 and 1996, playing Jan’s school guidance counselor Mrs. Cummings.
Hosted The RuPaul Show From 1996-1998 on VH1
Between 1996 and 1998, RuPaul hosted his namesake talk series The RuPaul Show, becoming one of the first openly gay personalities in history to front such a program. Across two seasons, Ru (and cohost Michelle Visage, who currently serves as one of the main judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race) interviewed dozens of celebrities, including Diana Ross, Cher, and Patti LaBelle.
Won GLAAD Media Awards' Vito Russo Award in 1999
Cementing his place not only in the pop cultural canon, but also among industry activists calling for LGBT equality, RuPaul won the GLAAD Media Awards’ Vito Russo accolade in 1999 for his contributions in promoting awareness and advocacy on behalf of the gay community. In subsequent years, the honor has gone to other celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Ford, Alan Cumming, Suze Orman, Cynthia Nixon, Ricky Martin, Anderson Cooper, and George Takei.
Released Fourth Starrbooty Movie in 2007
Coming full circle from his days as an up-and-coming legend of drag, RuPaul produced, wrote, and starred in the fourth film in his Starrbooty series in 2007, roughly two decades after he made three prior installments with friends throughout the 1980s. The initial trio — starring RuPaul as the titular character, a government-agent-slash-supermodel — was reportedly made on a budget of less than $100, and satirized the blaxploitation film movement of the 1970s. The film premiered at the New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival on June 2, 2007, and was later independently distributed on DVD by RuPaul himself.
Launched RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2009
RuPaul was a household name before the launch of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2009, but the success of the reality competition series pushed his image into the realm of being a global phenomenon, inspiring one of the most loyal television fanbases of all time along the way. Across eight seasons (including two all-star editions) which pitted queens from around the country against each other for the title of America’s Drag Superstar, the show has crowned winners who’ve gone on to become contemporary drag icons in their own right, including Bianca Del Rio, Sharon Needles, Alaska, and Raja.
Rebooted the Viva Glam Campaign in 2013 in Support of the MAC AIDS Fund
Continuing to lend his voice as an advocate for LGBT-related causes, RuPaul revived his MAC Viva Glam campaign in 2013, 19 years after first launching the lipstick initiative with the cosmetics giant in 1994. Proceeds from sales of the lip products (in Ru’s signature shade of red) benefitted the MAC AIDS fund. Other celebrities have lent a helping hand to the initiative over the years as well, including Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj, and Ricky Martin.
Sang “Fashion!” with Lady Gaga During the Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular in 2013
Ahead of landing Lady Gaga as a guest judge for Drag Race‘s upcoming ninth season, RuPaul hit the stage with Mother Monster for the latter’s 2013 ABC variety special Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular. True to their respective brands, the pair crooned through a duet of Gaga’s Artpop track “Fashion!” decked in elaborate getups.
Guest-Starred on an Episode of HBO's The Comeback in 2014
Following several roles in various film and television projects, RuPaul made a notable guest appearance on the 2014 revival season of Lisa Kudrow’s critically lauded HBO series The Comeback. Ru plays himself in a scene during the season opener, which sees Valerie Cherish (Kudrow) dropping in on a business lunch he’s sharing with Bravo’s Andy Cohen (also playing himself).
Won an Emmy for Hosting RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2016
Though he once famously said he’d “rather have an enema than an Emmy,” RuPaul finally accepted his first award from the Television Academy in September 2016. He was decorated for his work as the host of RuPaul’s Drag Race, telling the ceremony’s backstage press room, “I really didn’t expect this. I came here thinking I got invited to the prom and I’m going to dance my ass off tonight, but I didn’t expect that I would have this in my hand while I was dancing. It’s a very special night not just for me but for all the young people around the world who dance to the beat of a different drummer.”