The Secret Life of Porn Star Erik Rhodes (R.I.P.)
Last Thursday, muscleman porn star Erik Rhodes died of a heart attack after nearly a decade of working in adult film and publicly discussing his battles with depression and drug addiction on his blog.
Almost immediately, Twitter began reacting to news of Rhodes' death with sympathetic posts from porn performers and afficianados. Here's a small round-up of some notable tweets:
DominicFord @DominicFord [14 Jun]: My heart goes out to Erik Rhodes' family and friends. Very sad news.
Titan Media @TitanMen [14 Jun]: R.I.P. Erik Rhodes. The industry has lost a legend.
Falcon Studios @FalconStudiosPR [15 Jun]: In honor of Erik Rhodes and his friends and family please respect the loss and refrain from making malicious comments.
- Please join us in Celebrating Erik Rhodes by commenting on our special Memorial Page! Thanks to all who have commented.
Bruno Bond @BrunoBondHF [14 Jun]: Very sad today about Erik Rhodes. I always liked being around him. He had a way of making people feel special that was entirely unique....
Conner Habib @ConnerHabib [14 Jun]: Reading over Erik Rhodes's interviews, etc. He taught us: We're all walking contradictions - forgive yourself and others, laugh, keep going.
Austin Wilde @AustinWilde [14 Jun]: R.I.P. Erik Rhodes. You gentle beast, you. You will be missed.
Samuel Colt @MrSamuelColt [14 Jun]: RIP my friend, you were an amazing guy and I am heartbroken you are gone. I hope you find peace. @Erik_Rhodes pic.twitter.com/XpbSYdZn
(Porn director) Chi Chi LaRue @DJChiChiLaRue [14 Jun]: Today I dedicate my Twitter silence to Erik Rhodes! Nothing I'm Doing right now is even close to that important! RIP Erik "Sweet Giant!"
(Porn blogger) JC Adams @GPTimes [14 Jun]: Fans of Erik Rhodes- You will read many cruel blog comments today. Ignore them. He had demons. But remember him as a man, a friend, a STAR.
(Sister of Perpetual Indulgence) Sister Indica @SisterIndica [14 Jun]: I did not know of Erik Rhodes' work, but my heart breaks over the reaction to his passing. People can be so evil.
(Scissor Sisters' frontman) Jake Shears @Jakeshears [15 Jun]: So sorry to hear about Erik Rhodes today. My heart goes out to his friends and family. He seemed like a v special guy. Brave an honest. RIP
There were also a few articles reflecting on the porn star's passing.
In his June 20th New York Times article entitled, "An Early Death but Perhaps Not a Surprise," writer Jacob Bernstein noted that Rhodes (given name given name James Naughtin), "appeared regularly on Page Six, spent time with the designer Marc Jacobs, was profiled in magazines that had nothing to do with pornography, and shot an ad campaign for Loehmann's."
Bernstein quotes Rhode's friend and Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto as saying, "The gay porn audience often looks to a hulking macho fantasy, and he provided that. He was Thor, the Hulk and the rest of the ëAvengersí cast wrapped in a gay package. And the fashion connection and the fact that he had a brain elevated him from your everyday escort-slash-porn-god and gave him texture."
The writer also mentions Rhodes'identical twin, Jon Naughtin, and adds that while Jon went to college after their parents "long and nasty divorce," James/Rhodes "took a stream of low-paying jobs, working at a CVS and a sex-toy store, before moving into stripping and then pornographic films at 22."
In retrospect, Jon wishes that he had discouraged his brother when he announced his intention to begin working in porn.
The article adds that the internet porn market shrunk Rhodes' salary at a time where he was regularly abusing steroids to maintain his muscular physique and that people regularly pushed drugs onto Rhodes. It also mentions that Rhodes "got into fights with boyfriends, and the police would be called" and that he discovered only a few years ago that he was HIV-positive.
The article's most surprising revelation however is that:
"On June 13, after a night in which Mr. Rhodes was hired along with another escort to perform for a wealthy client (according to text messages later read by his brother), the two men continued the evening on their own, having sex and doing drugs. But Mr. Rhodes quickly realized that he was not feeling well and cut the evening short. Once home, he apparently went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead in a hospital shortly thereafter, his brother said."
In his June 15th article entitled "Most Are Missing the Big Picture on Death of Erik Rhodes," The Advocate contributing writer Brett Edward Stout says that Rhodes' death makes us consider our own mortality and the cost of our excessive behavior and deluded invincibility.
Moreso however, Stout paints a painful and human portrait of the passing porn star, while criticizing those who callously ask why anyone should care about his death or say that he deservingly brought it upon himself:
"James was an enigma who in many respects represented the apex of what the gay communality idolizes: he was young, beautiful, muscular, masculine, tall, hung, sexually insatiable, and honest about the character he played in our society. He knew he needed help, begged for it and shunned it at the same time...
People can judge him for his excesses or his career, but it was us who wanted to see those limits pushed and us who consumed the product he became. While many roll their eyes at porn actors, without an audience they wouldnít exist. He was an iconic figure to many, but his pain was evident to those who knew him intimately. His recent breakup with long-term boyfriend was crushing.
To those who knew the couple, he was more than a collage of faults and didnít need 10 guys; he only needed one... James was self-tortured but would be the last person to ask you to feel sorry for him, even if he needed it. He was a bad boy in need of rescue, a broken man in need of fixing and it tends to be in a gay manís nature to want to coddle and heal.
Few understand what it means to live so publicly. Trust is a commodity that quickly evaporates. For James, many wanted to help but everyone who offered made him wonder if it was only an investment of advice with the hope of a sexual return. And when he would test that suspicion, more often than not, he would be proven right."
Lastly, writer and friend Derek Hartley published a blog post entitled "End of Rhodes", in which Hartley associates Rhodes with a quote from Carrie Fisher's alter ego in the movie Postcards From The Edge: "The trouble is: I can't feel my life. I can't feel it. I see it all around me and I know that so much of it is good but I just take it the wrong way."
Hartley continues by sharing his heartbreaking personal memories of Rhodes:
"I asked him once what his future plans were after porn had run its course. He used to say, 'Once they have seen your pussy, what else do you have?' He knew it wasn't a career with a lot of longevity, and yet, he didn't see himself in any other kind of job. Most performers like him go into real estate or personal training, arenas where their past can be an asset in attracting clients, but his response to that notion was typical James: 'Can you imagine me trying to put up with those assholes?'
He tried his hand for a time at bartending, but that was mostly a disaster. But recently, he had started directing and that was something he seemed to genuinely enjoy, although I don't know how enthusiastic the models were. James explained that when the scene was going he would stop it and tell the models if they looked fat or ugly and to then re-position them in a more flattering way.
I don't know how anyone would feel being naked and exposed and having someone tell them they look fat, but he was an imposing figure so I assume they just sucked it up. James was typically sanguine about the whole thing, "A movie lasts forever. If I looked like a fat bag of shit, I would want someone to tell me!"
But in his soul, James was a writer. He got a lot of flak for his erratic blogs, filled with horrible sex stories, blatant drug use, and nasty rejoinders. But it was the truth. You could call him a lot of things, but a liar was never one of them. I begged him to assemble his stories into a one-man show and tour with it. I thought it could be a huge success.
But he never had the discipline for that, and I suspect the confidence in his own abilities. The world treated him like a giant walking fuck doll and he alternated between being angry or miserable about it and living the part.
Hartley ends by remembering an artistic photograph he had asked Rhodes to pose in: one in which the naked Rhodes held a collapsed man in his arms as a sort of gay pieta.
Though the improvised shot that Hartley finally took of Rhodes now haunts Hartley with its sadness, he recalls trying to pay Rhodes for his modelling and Rhodes refusing because, "I realize he just didn't want to be the whore that everyone expected him to be and me paying him off reduced his kindness to the same muck as all the rest."
Hartley concludes with saying, "I never judged him, but like all of us at one time or another, I misjudged him. And that is my biggest regret."