John Leslie flags the train

John Leslie, who died unexpectedly this week at 65, was too young to go. But he lived an intriguing life full of fellow travelers.

While they’re not exactly dropping like flies, the men and women whose careers straddled the times when porn was illegal to shoot, when the VHS Age made pornography a license to print money, and when the Internet and corporate irresponsibility devalued the product, are fading away.

These people who got their start in the 60’s and 70’s—among them the late Henri Pachard, Jamie Gillis, Gerard Damiano, David Aaron Clark, and Buck Adams—were also products of a generation that viewed porn as art and themselves as artists, even if the porn production line made that notion hard to reconcile.

Consider this quote from Paul Thomas, himself a performer-turned-director, in an AVN story about John Leslie:

“He was far too deep and far too complicated to be a ‘nice guy’,” Thomas retorted. “He might well have been a nice guy, but that’s selling him short. He could be anything but nice. He could be devious, he could be mean—he did what he had to do to get what he wanted. But he was much more than a nice guy. He was a fantastic artist.”

While I imagine the fun those guys must have had back in the 70’s and 80’s, I feel sorry for the let-down apparent in the past decade; porn is not a profession that easily remembers its history. While Leslie is enshrined in numerous adult halls of fame, the common lament of the veterans is that no one knows who they are.

It’s easier, in a way, for the new people in the business. They don’t remember a time when they could have bought houses with their porn earnings so there isn’t a bitterness about how good things used to be. And they don’t think of porn as a source of artistic enrichment.

Leslie, born John Leslie Nuzzo in Michigan, was one of the first porn actors to successfully transition to directing. He appeared in classic films alongside John Holmes and Jamie Gillis as well as all of the female luminaries of porn’s Golden Age. He was regarded by his peers as a real actor in films like “Insatiable” and the Mitchell Brothers’ “Autobiography of a Flea.”

Kay Parker, who would become famous for her role in “Taboo” in 1980, said that it was Leslie who brought her into the industry.

“I knew that when he asked me to be in a film with him that it was probably a porno,” she said.

Then as today, porn actors take as much work as they can. They consider themselves lucky when they can sink their teeth into a role, but the well-adjusted performers keep things in perspective, even when the vehicle doesn’t have space for them to stand out.

When Leslie wasn’t making films (his distributor, Evil Angel, also distributes the work of longtime friend and fellow performer-turned-director Joey Silvera), he was a painter, a chef, and a lover of blues (flagging the train” is a blues term). In fact, his pre-porn days were spent traveling with a blues band.

As of today, Leslie’s death, which occurred at his home in Mill Valley, CA, on December 5, was apparently caused by a heart attack. His wife of 23 years, Kathleen, found him slumped over his computer.

According to his wishes, Leslie’s body will be cremated. There will be a memorial service Wednesday night, December 15, at old-time Porn Valley hangout the Sportsman’s Lodge at 12825 Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.

I am indebted to an AVN story about Leslie that interviewed many of his friends and colleagues.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Kay Parker—the first “Taboo” is the deepest; John Holmes book also measured in inches; Roy Karch—The Pornographer at 60; Paul Thomas Superstar
See also: Adult Legend John Leslie Remembered

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