Who is Jesco White?
If you are a fan of tap and folk dance, you must have heard about ‘The Dancing Outlaw’ whose real name is Jesco White. Many people consider him a split personality – he’s been described by some as having a ‘real hillbilly’ side, an Elvis Presley side, and a soft side, although sometimes you may say that he is all three at once. However, there is one thing about him that everyone approves of – he is the cult icon of West Virginia.
If you want to know more about this controversial dancer, often referred to as charming and mysterious, let us tell you the naked truth about his childhood, family, and what he’s doing now.
Early life and family
Jesco White was born on 30 July 1956, in Bandytown, West Virginia USA, a small community near the Appalachian Mountains of Boone County. He’s the son of one of the greatest American mountain dancers, Donald Ray White, and his wife, Bertie Mae White, and has three siblings, Mamie, Minis and Dorsey.
The entire family came into the spotlight after the documentary movie “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” was released in 2009. The movie follows the Whites for one year, featuring outrageous and crazy stories of this oddly dysfunctional but loveable family of hillbillies. The first-person interviews with them are detailing the poverty of the society living in the Appalachian Mountains, crime, and addiction the family members have.
Jesco had an enormous desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. When his father died, (their neighbor, Steve Allen Rowe, shot him in the chest on 2 July 1985, and also injured Jesco and Dorsey), Jesco inherited not only his dancing shoes, but also his talent, thus he continued on dancing combining his father’s dance style, a mix of clog and tap dancing, and his own signature moves.
Jesco rose to fame after his appearance in the 1991 TV documentary mini-series “Different Drummer”. The episode featuring him was entitled “Dancing Outlaw”, and this short documentary introduced the audience to hard-living, talented tap-dancer, Jesco White. Being a troubled young man who repeatedly had problems with the law, prevented him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a renowned dancer, as his father was. An eccentric and at any moment very violent and dangerous, Jesco still managed to win the sympathy of the audience.
Eight years later, Jesco was seen in the documentary “Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes to Hollywood”, which featured his trip to Los Angeles, California, where he would make an appearance as an Elvis impersonating dancer in an episode of the series “Roseanne”.
When Roseanne Barr met him she was shocked by the tattoo of a swastika on his hand, and so asked Tom Arnold, her co-star, to take him to a tattoo artist who would cover the offending image; then she found out that Jesco didn’t know the meaning of what the swastika represents.
He spoke about his tattoos in one of his interviews, and showed the tattoo of three roses on his hand, saying that it was the one he got when he was in Hollywood.
In 2009, Jesco and his family were featured in “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia”, and the documentary won Melbourne Underground Film Festival Award for Best Foreign Film, shown in Australia in 2010.
The week after releasing the film, Jesco and his sister were arrested on suspicion of drug dealing. Jesco said in his interview from jail that he didn’t do drugs for over 30 years, and that this arrest hurt him and embarrassed him. The producers of the documentary bailed him out, and after a month, the charges against Jesco were dismissed since there was no evidence that he was involved in any drug-related crimes.
In the same year, Jesco was seen in the horror movie “It Came from Trafalgar”, and then in 2014, he was seen in the biographical documentary “Popcorn Sutton: A Hell of a Life”, about the life of legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton, who killed himself in 2009.
Jesco White. From a 2003 trip
Jesco is the well-known voice of Rebel Radio DJ in the video games “Grand Theft Auto Online” and “Grand Theft Auto V”, while from 2010 until 2021, he had a recurring voice role as Gaga Pee Pap in the animated series “Squidbillies”.
The 2009 movie “White Lightnin’” was based on Jesco’s life, although very loosely, and even though the film won numerous awards, the audience wasn’t happy with how Jesco was presented. The beginning of the movie had a fair amount of reverence, however, towards the end it was quite fictional with some disturbing images, such as when Jesco chops off his fingers.
In 2017, Jesco was seen as himself in the movie “Logan Lucky”, starring Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, and Adam Driver
Jesco’s first wife was Norma Jean White – the two married in 1974, when Norma was 35 years old while Jesco was 19. They had a rocky marriage, and divorced in 1988; however, they remarried in the following year,.
Their on-and-off marriage is colored with numerous separations, and the sentence which Jesco said in the first documentary when he was asked about his wife is until today extraordinary and perhaps the best way to describe their relationship – ‘I took the butcher knife and put it up to her neck. I said if you want to live to see tomorrow, you better start fryin’ them eggs a little bit better then what you a fryin’ ‘em’, adding that he is tired of eating sloppy, slimy eggs.
Norma said that he’s the devil, who doesn’t care for anybody, and the more people he hurts, then then the happier he is.
In 1997, after she left him (again), she said that he hasn’t hit her since she went to the domestic violence shelter, but that he’d threatened her. Despite all the problems, Norma said that she couldn’t stop loving him. Jesco begged her to come back home, and in the end, she stayed with him until she died in 2009, aged 70.
Two years later, Jesco married Alida, and the two are still married, and living in Tennessee. Some rumors were saying that Jesco died, however, the truth is that he is doing well, but has withdrawn from public life, and enjoys Pyrography (wood burning).
This 66-year-old most famous American ‘outlaw’ who struggled with poverty all his life, failed to capitalize on his popularity and earn a larger sum of money. According to sources, as of September 2022, his net worth has been estimated at less than $100,000.