The adult entertainment industry has (is?) a huge revolving door, with thousands of people entering every month, for a single low-rent photo shoot or a long career. Of course, five years makes you an old-timer, male or female. And, for most ladies, the “career expiration date” is 26 years. That’s 26 years of age, of course, not 26 years in the business.
Most leave the biz in a day, a week, a month. A few might hit the mass culture radar and show up on VH-1’s Where Are They Now? but the question remains: Where, exactly, do all these folks go? They aren’t aliens, so they go where other humans go: back to school; to Indiana; to Hollywood for a shot at “regular” acting gigs.
And they start health clinics for their former colleagues.
Former starlet Sharon Mitchell, according to a Washington Post story in 2004, “was so alarmed by HIV rates” in adult entertainment that she lobbied for a California law to require monthly testing. She did so as head of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM), which she founded in 1998 and ran as a personal mission for a number of years. AIM closed in 2011, but by then Mitchell had done much more than merely make a career change; from pursuing passion as a trade, she turned her compassion into a crusade. Say what you want about Mitchell and her old “profession,” the lady did a lot of good for a lot of people, with an insider’s sensitivity to the issues faced by sex workers, the LGBT community in and out of porn, and the many soccer moms and hockey dads that (much to the astonishment of the Christian Right) populate the So Cal porn industry.
In the 2000s, Trinity James made over 200 adult films, and claimed to have worked in a Las Vegas brothel. By 2006 she wanted to go to cosmetology school in Indiana. James, then a veteran at 24, decided to quit after meeting Craig Gross, co-founder of Los Angeles-based XXXchurch, a ministry that “targets those in the pornography trade” and helps them “get out of the industry,” according to the December 2005 Christian Examiner. Gross started the Trinity Project, whose first fundraising goal was $14,000 to send James and her then-5-year-old son to the new life she had decided to start in the Midwest.
Even earlier, Traci Lords turned infamy into a brief acting career (Married … with Children, Blade II, Serial Mom), and Ashyln Gere, according to urban legends website Tafkac.org, proved in some X-Files episodes to be “one of the few porn stars who can actually act.” Ginger Lynn, Charlie Sheen’s “girlfriend” when the Heidi Fleiss scandal broke, made the movie Whore and some episodes of NYPD Blue.
And, of course, they die: Linda Lovelace in an accident, director Alex deRenzy by stroke, John Holmes of AIDS. Plenty of other well known porn pros, from in front of and behind the camera, have succumbed to every sort of malady or tragedy, while even more industry people have simply been forgotten.
Still, being remembered is no guarantee of respect, not in a business where you’re famous for being infamous. For a sobering reminder of the all-too-human nature of “porn stars,” visit the “Dead Porn Star” page. Scrolling through the long list of deaths by accident, murder, overdose, and AIDS is a humbling exercise, stark testimony to the frail human condition.
Anyone who wants to leave the business can; anyone who wants to enter can do that, too. They all deserve our compassion and respect as fellow humans, doing their best to get along in a sometimes joyful, often tragic world.