Jimmy Coco: Advocate

Ruby's Rap

by Ruby Comer

Photo courtesy Priceline Beauty Prescription Live

There may be snowflakes on your windows, dear hearts, but summer is just around the corner! Slide easily into the warm season with tan expert Jimmy Coco.

Several years ago, when a mutual friend told me that she wanted me to meet Jimmy Coco, straight away I thought of the talented stage and screen actor. But he died many years ago. If you are of a certain age, you may recall this very funny man. He played Broadway, was a guest on every major television show of the day, and appeared in many films. One of his most memorable roles was Sancho Panza in the musical, Man of LaMancha—with the iconic diva herself, Sophia Loren. In fact, as a young gal just starting out in the acting biz, I had a small part in one of Jimmy’s Broadway shows, You Can’t Take It With You.

When I was introduced to Jimmy, my man of the month, little did I know that there was a connection between the two Jimmy’s! Later for that tidbit.

“Hollywood’s Celebrity Tan Expert!” is what the Kardashians named him. The tan man has

Illustration by Davidd Batalon

worked with Ariana Grande, Heidi Klum, and Ashley Graham. Often he’s called to the set to apply a tan, like on the films Magic Mike and Transformers.

The Sacramento native learned the art of the tan when he was a sportswear model in his twenties. In 2003, he opened his business, bringing the tan to the people—mobile and readily available. Whether the tan is for the red carpet, the runway, or just because a tan makes you feel better, Jimmy is there in a sunny flash!

The leading man of tan also developed his own self-tan products and patent-pending applicator as well.

Jimmy, forty-six, believes in giving back and throughout his adult life has supported various causes, including the fight against AIDS. He’s been a volunteer for APLA and a donor to Out of the Closet, and he has participated in AIDS Walks.

For months Jimmy had been telling me about his “squirrel friends.” What?! In emails he would send pics of himself feeding these critters! I had to see this. Today, he invited me to his Hollywood Hills home near picturesque Runyon Canyon Park, where I often hike to maintain my girlie figure.

We settle in his living room, watching for the squirrels who regularly appear on his balcony. Jimmy also has two cats, Star and Tanner, who are so cuddly.

Photo by Gehan Naber/Naber Productions

Ruby Comer: Jimmy, first off, two questions: What celebrity today has the best tan, and what is the best thing about being tan?
Jimmy Coco: [He instantly replies] It’s a toss between Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez. [Jimmy pauses.] A healthy glow with an amazing tan makes me super happy!

Well, okay, one can’t argue that. I know I feel sexier with a tan, and when I have time, I apply self tanner. I think tan lines on a guy is…hot! Before this old chick gets all hot and bothered, I have to commend you on your charitable work.
I feel that the time I spend volunteering, Ruby, is worth more than the work I get paid to do. It is more valuable to me personally.

I get it, Jimmy. Helping others does makes ya feel good. I know you are also involved with Best Friends Animal Society and St. Jude’s Children’s hospital.
(He dips his neck, his baby blues wandering.) I also spent years at the LA Zoo feeding howler monkeys and tamarinds. These are animals with special needs, either pregnant, diabetic, on weight gain programs, or have other health needs.

Wow, I didn’t know any of this. [I think, hmmm, I wonder if the squirrels will show….] Jimmy, how did you first hear about the disease?
As an early teen I learned about AIDS on the news. So many men were dying of an unknown illness and I remember feeling so sad.

By the time you were a teen, being infected with HIV was often a death sentence. [He nods, biting his lips softly.] Who do you attribute to educating you the most about the epidemic?
I thank my junior college health professors who taught me everything I needed to know about safe sex. [He swigs some of his ginger kombucha.] I was single for so many years, or in short-term relationships, participating in low-risk sexual activity because of my fear of the disease. I was labeled a prude. At eighteen, having irresponsible sex was like playing Russian roulette, so I didn’t partake.
I took action through education and awareness.

What was growing up in Sacramento like?
Well…I was taught that if you were gay, you would most likely [acquire HIV] and die from AIDS. My stepfather’s comment on gay rights: “Put all gays on an island and burn it.” In fear for my life, I remained silent, afraid, and isolated. It was awful. [My professors however taught me]that it’s never okay for someone to shame you into proving your love to them by participating in high risk sexual behavior.

Smart. When did you get tested the first time?
I was twenty. I was dating a person who was trying to infect me. He lied about his status, which later explained why he wouldn’t get tested. When I learned this, I ended the relationship and immediately got myself tested.

Wow. That’s quite a beginning for a young man. How unsettling.
It was nerve-wracking for sure! I felt betrayed, targeted, and somehow believed that I had done something to deserve it. I was scarred. [I nod while he looks over his shoulder out at his balcony. I think he’s wondering too.] This experience had such an impact on my life, Ruby, especially when I was coming into my own. [From then on] I avoided relationships so that I wouldn’t have to get tested again. I lived a life of loneliness and isolation.

Devastating. How has that played out for you today?
I have such a hard time believing people unless we get tested together. I choose either the at-home HIV test or a regular blood test. I do really like the privacy and ease of the at-home test.

[Suddenly, we hear a “chirp-chirp-chirp.” We look out and Winston peeks around the corner at us! I’m agog.] Oh-my-gosh, Jimmy. [We are silent. He scurries over to the plate of nuts, lowers his head down, and starts to crunch.] Precious, just precious. How did all this get started?
One day I looked outside and there was a squirrel sitting on my balcony, taunting my cats. I quickly Googled, What do squirrels eat? and began feeding them nuts and strawberries.

Photo by Cheryl Mann Photography

How do you know that’s Winston?
Well, Harriet and Benny are more skittish. Once Benny jumped at me and then ran onto the sliding glass door pane. He’s aggressive. Harriet is not. Winston is super chill and kisses my knuckle and eats from my hand.

One day I noticed all the nuts on the floor with no ramekin in sight. I thought it was the birds, even though I put up an umbrella to stop them. Then I saw Benny grab the nuts, stuffing in his mouth, and run away. Too funny. I guess Benny prefers take-out.

How enchanting. [As Winston continues to nibble] Back to matters at hand, how do you feel about PrEP?
I need to learn more about it. I’m hearing good things, so if they are true, it sounds like a great next step for me.

Are you dating now?
I am, but nothing too serious, so I think it’s a good time to figure it all out.

Tell me about your connection to the actor Jimmy Coco?
He made me laugh [he utters directly and plainly]. He got his start working as a mail boy for an all-women’s organization. One woman in particular took him under her wing and told him that he should become an actor. Similarly, when I started my business career, women also surrounded me. Pale women, I might add, but…[we giggle]. One woman, in particular, influenced my career as well.

So the two Jimmy’s both received inspiration, a helping hand if you will, from women they worked with. Who inspires you now?
I really admire Greg Louganis [A&U, September 2016] for the trials and tribulations he’s gone through.

Touché. Great guy. Who do you consider a hero in the epidemic?
Elton John, and Elton’s biggest sponsor, the beautiful Diana Jenkins, owner of Neuro Beverages.

So… having a tan is “outer beauty,” what is “inner beauty” to Jimmy Coco?
Let’s see…[he ticks these off precisely, with fervor] sincerity, passion for life, love, commitment, honesty, and loyalty. I am a spiritual person and my beliefs are aligned with Deepak Chopra [A&U, August 2001]. As he says, “In that which you contribute to this life, you will receive.”

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].