At UNO, the student body includes the world’s first video paparazzo, a disabled veteran and the father of the first transgender homecoming queen — and they’re all the same person.
When Driftwood sat down with J.D. Ligier, the interview lasted for over two and a half hours. That’s because he had so many stories to tell, each of them just as important as the rest in shaping who he is today.
Ligier is about 48, a student of interdisciplinary studies and father of three sons. He grew up in California about an hour from Hollywood, and that put him in the way of E.L. Woody, the “king of paparazzi.” On his first night at a club — the Roxbury, Ligier was forced through a car window by Sylvester Stallone’s bodyguard, and the incident broke his cheekbone. Regardless, Ligier found the paparazzi business to be so lucrative that he made it his full-time job, becoming the first video paparazzo at a time when portable video equipment was just becoming more accessible.
“I did for about 4 years with no competition. Everything that was shot, we could name our price.. then I moved to New York to do it because no one was doing it there.”
In New York, Ligier had a run-in with Robert DeNiro. On a tip that he would be at a certain night club, Ligier went there and took pictures as DeNiro exited.
“Instead of retreating, I pulled my camera back and I got the shot of him punching me in the face,” said Ligier, who escaped from the incident with a broken nose.
That night at the police station, police confiscated the camera and removed all the photos from Ligier’s camera, including those from a film set he was invited to that morning.
“People think paparazzi are adversaries, but really it’s a mutual, symbiotic relationship,” said Ligier. “Granted, there’s always bad people in every business — but we never broke the law to take a picture.”
Ligier was Jim Carrey’s wedding photographer, Roseanne Barr would give them a call to take photos of her on some nights when she went out, and he was even friends with Charlie Sheen.
In 1997, Princess Diana of the U.K. was killed in a car accident, and the royal family pointed fingers. “They said that [the paparazzi] chased her into this tunnel … but they didn’t actually arrive until 10 minutes after the crash.” And after that, Ligier had to quit his job. “That incident changed my whole business. I was making $180,000 a year and that brought my annual salary to $35,000. …I hated being a paparazzi, but I was really good at it. That gave me the opportunity to get out.”
Ligier moved to Redding, California when he was recruited into the military. While training for Desert Storm, he experienced a tibial plateau compound fracture.
“I spent six months in a wheelchair, and probably another three months in crutches. For life, I get disability compensation, so that’s how I’m able to go to school,” said Ligier.
While in Redding, Ligier went to Shasta Community College, where he became a teaching assistant and was a master tutor for macrobiology, anatomy and physiology and several other courses. As of now, Ligier has three associate’s degrees: one in allied health, one in natural sciences, and one in social sciences.
Later on, Ligier came to New Orleans with his children, and his oldest child came out to him as transgender.
“It’s not exactly the dream of every father, but you want your children to be happy,” Ligier reasoned. “While he’s transitioning, I’m transitioning too. I’m getting used to the pronouns — you know, it’s all new.” His son’s high school, Morris Jeff Community School, was very supportive. “They went out of their way to make sure he felt comfortable,” said Ligier.
“I feel so sorry for all those kids who don’t have support in their own home,” Ligier added. “We need to reach out and help our fellow humans — it’s our responsibility as a society.”
As for Ligier, he’s on the track to becoming a physician’s assistant, and he just finished up his thesis work for the film portion of his interdisciplinary degree, a documentary on E.L. Woody, his lifelong mentor. “Netflix is interested and they’re talking about doing a four-part series,” Ligier said about his thesis work.
In his free time, he’s a senator with the SGA, where he’s making UNO history by planning the remodel of the core of the math building’s first floor. He’s also working with the Technology Fee Committee right now to get UNO registered with an app called Rave Guardian. Any UNO student will be able to use the app to stay safe. It’s an alternative to the emergency blue-light phones around campus, which Ligier said no one uses or even knows about.
Says Ligier, “People are so governed by fear — fear will hold you back. …I live for today, I guess you could say. I don’t want anything to hold me back from experiencing life.”