His face has never been his fortune and that‘s a good thing, because Ron Jeremy is not what you’d call conventionally handsome. Short, comically hairy, gnomically rotund, and fully deserving of his nickname “the Hedgehog,” he seems an unlikely candidate for porn superstardom. Indeed, his prominence has less to do with the extreme dependability of his 10-inch instrument than with a widespread belief among the porn fans who regularly mob him in the street that if the almost militantly unprepossessing Jeremy can get this much pussy, then there‘s still hope for the rest of us.
One of the adult film industry’s true survivors, Jeremy has racked up some 1,700 skin flicks in a career lasting 23 years and involving, he estimates, sweaty liaisons with some 4 or 5,000 women. He was in at the dawn of porn, when it was still, as he puts it, “a renegade, radical, hippy-dippy, peace-loving, sexual-revolution business, part of the counterculture,” and today he remains a mainstay of the current multimillion-dollar, semi-respectable adult industry. He‘s also porn’s honest woodsman. Not for him the coke, the booze and the low self-esteem that did in John Holmes, Savannah, and other broken-winged birds of porn. “You live clean and you get to stick money in the bank,” he says. “Drugs, booze, cocaine? That gets expensive.”
Thus it is I meet Jeremy — who‘s barely touched alcohol or narcotics (including Viagra) since college, and who’s said to have banked every dime he‘s ever made — in the luxury Hollywood apartment building where he lives in one penthouse and rents out two others he also owns. As is evident from Scott J. Gill’s documentary portrait Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, he‘s affable and charismatic, self-deprecating and warm. He’s pleased that the movie depicts him as more than just a life-support system for an erection, even though he was initially reluctant to participate. “I thought they were going to discover a lot of skeletons in my closet. And then I thought, wait a minute, I don‘t have any. Well, I guess I have one big whopper — 23 years of porno, that’s a woolly mammoth-sized skeleton. I did ask them not to shoot me having sex on film. I know I can handle the porn cameras — I can suck in my gut or cheat the angle — but the guy doing a doc might zero in on a big lava-flow of fat or catch a dirty fingernail.”
Recalling porn‘s early outlaw days (it was illegal to shoot porn in L.A. until 1988), Jeremy reels off a list of names, straight out of Barbarella, of the stars who once twinkled so brightly in the porno firmament: “The girls of that era were Serena, Seka, Vanessa del Rio, Marilyn Chambers, Annette Haven, Linda Lovelace, Aunt Peg, and Georgina Spelvin. There was the East Coast community, a lot of them college-educated like myself, and on the West Coast there were the San Francisco pot-smokers. Then there was the L.A. crowd, and a lot of them really were like they’re depicted in Boogie Nights” — on which he was a consultant — “which is accurate about the John Holmes crowd, who were doing massive amounts of cocaine.”
Back then porn was shot on film, and there was a lot of money around. “What they spend on a whole film now was the lunch budget back then,” says Jeremy. “There were storylines, real acting and proper sets. Today with video and digital, and because of the amateurs and gonzo filmmakers, dialogue has been reduced to ‘What’s your name? What‘re your hobbies? Enough talk — eat me!’”
Which is perhaps why Jeremy still yearns for a straight acting career. In Porn Star and in person, Jeremy exhibits an almost unslakeable thirst for attention, the warmth of the spotlight and the proximity of A-list celebrities, and his desire to cross over is an extension of these appetites, which seem to derive from a deep-seated, yet quite actorly neediness on his part (his B.A., after all, was in Theater). Still, while he‘s made cameo appearances in mainstream movies like 54 and Detroit Rock City, he’s often left on the cutting-room floor at the insistence of studio suits. “It‘s a struggle, but I get offers and work, but being famous can hurt you as much as it helps, especially my kind of fame. I wish I had all this publicity over a starring role in a feature, or a good character part, but in the end I think it’s a positive documentary. I come across as a nice guy, I guess.”
For a review of Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, turn to Film Calendar.