John Holmes (actor)

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John Holmes with Leslie Bovée

John Curtis Estes (August 8, 1944 - March 13, 1988), better known as John Holmes or Johnny Wadd, was a porn star of the 1970s and 1980s. Best known for his large penis, he starred in some 2,200 movies and is generally considered to be the greatest male star in the 35 years since cinematic pornography lost its illegal status and became generally available to the public. He died in 1988 from complications due to AIDS.


Early life

Born in Pickaway County, Ohio, John never knew his father, a railroad worker named Carl Estes. John's mother, a devout Southern Baptist, married Edward Holmes a few years later. She changed John's birth name from Estes to Holmes. John Holmes was the youngest of five children.

At 16, with the permission of his mother, Holmes enlisted in the United States Army and spent three years in Germany in the Signal Corps. Upon his discharge, Holmes moved to Los Angeles where he worked in a variety of jobs. It was during his stint as an ambulance driver that he met a nurse named Sharon Gebenini. They married in 1965.

Porn career

For the next two years, Holmes and his wife lived quiet, uneventful lives. Holmes found work as a forklift driver at a warehouse, but the rigors of driving in and out of a frozen warehouse created severe health problems, causing a lung to collapse on three separate occasions. While recovering from the collapsed lung, Holmes frequented a club in Gardena, where he met a man in the bathroom who, amazed at what he termed Holmes' "prodigeous pike," encouraged him to do pornography. Initially, he did magazine work and the occasional 8mm loop, keeping his work in porn secret from his wife.

Despite his desire for anonymity, Holmes' penis was large enough that distribution houses for 8mm loops could not resist using Holmes' anatomical anomaly as a marketing gimmick. This especially in light of the popularity of the Cuban porn star "Superman", whose career peaked in the late 1950's and was totally obliterated when Cuba was taken over by Fidel Castro, who shut down the Cuban porn industry practically overnight. To porn importation and distribution companies like Erik Imports, Diamond Collection and Mistral Films, this was seen as a chance to market a Caucasian answer to the Cuban "Superman". So, while the ad copy for his first few dozen loops rarely mentioned a name for him, those that did usually gave him a name that was nowhere near what his real first name was. In fact, one early "Swedish Erotica" brochure from 1973 has five Holmes loops listed, each of which has a different name referring to Holmes even though it's obvious from his seriously homely facial features and the size of his penis that "Fred", "Dave", "Rudy", "Big Dick" and "Stan" are all the same person, right down to the burned out veins on each arm from his heroin abuse.

With the success of The Devil in Miss Jones (1972), Deep Throat (1972), and Behind the Green Door (1973), porn had become chic although its legality was hotly contested. Holmes was arrested during this time for pimping and pandering, but he avoided prison time by becoming an informant for the Los Angeles Police Department.

In 1973, Holmes' career began to rise with a porn series built around a private investigator named Johnny Wadd. By 1978, Holmes was reputed to be earning as much as $3,000 a day as a porn actor and had reportedly performed with over 14,000 individual women by 1981. He starred at a time when an attractive personality could compensate for a lack of other aesthetic characteristics, and a certain amount of acting ability were demanded of porn stars of a level that is not seen in today's porn films. (More current porn films often eschew plot and cinematography in favor of continuous sex, with very little plot or dialog outside of brief foreplay, multiple positions, and ejaculation on the receiving partner's backside or face.)

At the start, Holmes was widely publicized as having a penis ranging from 13.5 inches to 15 inches, depending on which ad copy a particular adult film distributor chose to use. In reality, according to those who performed with him on screen, Holmes' actual maximum length when erect was 12.5 inches. It has been noted by several porn historians that the advertising of Holmes' endowment finally settled on 12.5 inches for two reasons:

  1. Holmes, who was 6'2" tall, started his career doing 8mm "porn loops" with female performers who were, on the average, no taller than 5', and were of extremely slender build. However, due to clever camera angles, most of these short women appeared to be ~5'7" tall, which based on scaling made Holmes appear as if he were actually between 13 and 15". His length — as well as his 7.5" circumference at the base, and 8" at the head when fully erect — by most accounts resulted in quite a few porn actresses refusing to work with him, with "self-preservation" being the primary justification. Holmes was viewed by most porn actresses as being a "real gentleman", even when obviously intoxicated on heroin. However, after one reported instance where a 4'9" performer suffered internal hemorrhaging after losing her balance and receiving Holmes' penis far harder and further than expected, word spread through the industry that if a film starring Holmes made a casting call, shorter women need not apply.
  2. In 1978, several companies were licensed to produce a dildo that was cast from Holmes' erect penis. While this allowed people to experience Holmes' manhood firsthand, the dildo was only 12.5" long. After the dildo was released, according to those working in the porn industry in California at the time, if the dildo size was accurate, then the descriptions of Holmes' being longer than 12.5" were clearly a case of false advertising, and depending on which measurement was correct, someone could easily get sued. Shortly afterwards, Holmes was officially listed as being only 12.5" long, where he stayed at for the remainder of his life and career.

Drugs and "Wonderland Murders"

The money Holmes was earning at the time was not enough to support his drug addiction, and he ventured into crime, selling drugs for gangs, prostituting himself to both men and women, committing credit card fraud and petty theft. In 1976 he hooked up with a 16-year old girl, Dawn, and he later prostituted her. In 1981, he was arrested for stealing a computer from a car.

Holmes had developed a close friendship with drug dealer and nightclub owner Eddie Nash, who supplied Holmes with cocaine, heroin and other drugs he desired. At the same time, Holmes was closely associated with the Wonderland Gang, frequently selling drugs for them. After stealing from a couple of drug runs, Holmes found himself in trouble with the Wonderland Gang. Allegedly in exchange for his life, he told gang leaders in 1981 about Nash and a very large stash of drugs, money and jewelry Nash had, and helped to set up a robbery.

After the robbery, Nash is believed to have suspected Holmes had a part in it, and after getting Holmes to confess to his participation, Nash allegedly exacted revenge against the Wonderland Gang. Four of the gang's members were later found killed in what is now known as the Wonderland Murders or "Four on the Floor" (police reference to the crime), or "Laurel Canyon Murders" by the local press. Holmes was incarcerated in connection with the murders, and spent six months in jail having lacked the bail money. He was acquitted of murder charges. He refused to tell authorities what he knew about the case, and spent some time in jail for contempt of court.

After the trial, Holmes alleged in interviews that during his incarceration he had been taken by jail officials to solitary confinement cells, where he was forced to sodomize other inmates who had been placed in confinement for prison infractions, or perform unspecified "tricks" for warders in exchange for special privileges (which reportedly included extra visitation hours where some of Holmes' fellow porn actresses showed up to help keep up his spirits).

Gebenini divorced him while he was in jail in 1982. Holmes returned to the porn industry, and suddenly found himself for a brief period with more job offers than he could physically perform. However, his heroin addiction had grown worse, and by the accounts of several people, including an LA drug pusher who claims that Holmes was his best customer, he was breaking into parked cars and stealing stereo equipment in order to afford his next fix. Where most porn insiders noted that Holmes rarely showed up under the influence of drugs on the set, during this period, his addiction began affecting his performance to the point that he was not able to maintain an erection more than 2-3 minutes at a time. Eventually, his normally punctual attendance also collapsed, and job offers began to dwindle.

Last days

As Holmes' career continued to decline, in an act of financial desperation, he starred in his only full-length feature gay porn movie, The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes (1982). In the movie, Holmes performs unprotected anal sex on Joey Yale who died of AIDS in 1986. While the movie remains a top seller on the gay porn market, his performance alienated a large segment of his heterosexual fan base, who until this film were blissfully unaware that Holmes had experimented with bisexuality for years as part of early short movies and his self-prostitution outside of the porn industry. On a porn set he met his future girlfriend and wife, Laurie Rose, a.k.a. Misty Dawn, a fellow porn actor.

In 1986, Holmes was diagnosed with HIV. Holmes never used needles and was deathly afraid of them; he was addicted to smoking cocaine. He had many risk factors and many other prior exposures, and there is no way to identify which of them led to his HIV infection. Holmes continued to have unprotected sex in the adult film industry without informing any of his partners of his status, and worked until the disease emaciated him. One female performer he had worked with — "Lisa DeLeeuw" — died of AIDS in 1993, but it is believed that she contracted the virus from a dentist who had failed to sterilize his instruments properly. The last time she had performed with Holmes was in 1981, which reduces the odds of her having contracted HIV from Holmes.

Holmes married Misty Dawn in 1987. Two weeks before his death in 1988, detectives visited him in the hospital, in another futile attempt to get information about the Wonderland murders. Misty Dawn took the name Laura Holmes and later published the book Porn King: Autobiography of John C. Holmes in 1998.


Besides the dildo — which is still manufactured today and remains a top seller — Holmes' legacy has become more renown and publicly acceptable. A documentary on his life (Wadd - the Life and Times of John C. Holmes) has achieved cult status among certain late-night college campus independent film houses, and some elements of the film Boogie Nights were loosely based on Holmes's life, including the Laurel Canyon "Wonderland" murders. That aspect of Holmes' life was presented in a biographical movie called Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer and released on October 17, 2003.

Finally, since the majority of Holmes' loops have gone into public domain following the collapse of Caballero Control Corporation in 1990, there are efforts underway to locate all surviving 8mm loops starring Holmes and convert them to DVD for posterity. However, since the life expectancy of most 8mm films is really poor due to the nature of the film stock used during that time — those familiar with the Zapruder film will understand the issue here — it is believed that as much as 60-70% of Holmes' loops may already be lost forever.


  • Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story (1981 documentary)
  • Wadd - The Life and Times of John C. Holmes (1998 documentary)
  • The Devil and John Holmes by Mike Sager, Rolling Stone, June 15, 1989; reprinted in "Scary Monsters and Super Freaks" (2004).
  • Porn King: Autobiography of John C. Holmes (1998).

See also

External links

sv:John Holmes


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