Billy Porter (1969- )

Billy Porter in 2019
Billy Porter in 2019
Photo by Adweek (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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William Ellis “Billy” Porter II is an actor, singer, and author who is most recognized for his Broadway performances and runway attire. Porter was born on September 21, 1969, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to William E. Porter and Cloerinda Jean Johnson Porter Ford and revealed to his parents that he was gay at the age of sixteen. He first attended Reizenstein Middle School and Taylor Allderice High School in Pittsburgh. Porter found his love for theatrical singing and performing during the summers of 1985 through 1987, when he performed daily with the group Flash at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. He then attended the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School and graduated in 1987. Porter attended Carnegie Mellon University, graduating with a B.F.A. in 1991.

Porter began his Broadway journey after graduation, as part of the ensemble in the play Miss Saigon. In 1992, he performed on the CBS network show Star Search as a vocalist, ultimately winning first place and $100,000. In 1994, he starred in the Broadway revival of Grease. Porter appeared in three plays in 1995: The Merchant of Venice, Songs for a New World, and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. He made his film debut in the 1996 movie Twisted and released his self-titled debut album, Billy Porter, on A&M Records in 1997. He provided character voices and sang in the ensemble of the animated film Anastasia.

Porter began working in television in 1998 on the NBC daytime soap opera Another World and has appeared in numerous other shows.  He has performed in over twenty-two plays, both on and off-Broadway, including Dreamgirls (2004). In 2005, he wrote and performed in Ghetto Superstar, his one-man autobiographical play, and released his second studio album, At the Corner of Broadway, with Sh-K-Boom Records. He is most noted for his original role of Lola in Kinky Boots (2013-2015). In 2014, he released his third album Billy’s Back on Broadway with Concord Records. His fourth album, Bill Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers, was released in 2017 on the label Sony Masterworks.

As an artist, Porter has become a fashion icon, having created 150 red carpet looks either alone or with stylist Sam Ratelle. He has won numerous awards, including a Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical (2013) for his role in Kinky Boots and a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album (2014). He also won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his role in the FX network multi-award winning LGBTQ+ show Pose. In September 2021, Porter made history with his role as the Fabulous Godmother in an Amazon Prime Video rendition of Cinderella.

Porter met Adam Smith in 2009, and the two married on January 14, 2017. In May 2021, Porter announced that he was diagnosed with HIV in June 2007. He also revealed he had been going through psychotherapy for twenty-five years and stated he was “rising from his shame.” He released Billy Porter Unprotected, a Memoir in October, 2021.