Amber Rayne, who died on Saturday, April 2, exemplifies the porn performer who never becomes a marquee star but who is beloved by her colleagues. Her death also provides an opportunity to talk about how we eulogize people who happened to be sex workers.
“If you knew her, you loved her,” says Tim Woodman, a friend and frequent collaborator. They met nearly a decade ago when both were working for the late BDSM producer Natali DeMore. Woodman, whose professional handle is “Pro Villain,” is a bondage rigger. “[Rayne] just curled up on a length of rope and purred like a cat,” he says.
When news of Rayne’s death began hitting social media on Sunday, Woodman, who had been corresponding over Twitter with Rayne the previous week, “hoped desperately it was a prank.”
“I reached out to people who were close to me that were close to her [to confirm it],” he said. And at first there was a positive spin on the story in adult industry press that the LAPD has since contradicted.
Sources close to Rayne told AVN that she passed away peacefully in her sleep at home either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, though the exact cause of death will not be known until autopsy reports are completed at the end of next week. She was 31.
In fact, police were called to Rayne’s Sun Valley home on Saturday afternoon after receiving a call that she had collapsed. Foul play was not suspected, but Ed Winter, assistant chief of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, said the department still needed to rule out an “accident or overdose.”
An autopsy was performed April 5 but results might not be available for several weeks.
It is not surprising that “sources close to Rayne” told AVN she died in her sleep. That was the version I heard, too. This is a business awash in bad news and an outsized but understandable need to protect itself — why make things worse? But it is this thinking — protecting something bigger by obscuring something smaller — that keeps a 3-dimensional person from being given full credit for her humanity. The special person Rayne was to family, friends, and fans will not be eclipsed by the particulars of her passing.
I feel very strongly that a person’s life outshines the manner of her death, however tragic, and a less-than-forthcoming explanation (e.g. “Billy Glide died of an untreated snake bite”) suggests that a person’s exit is more important than her time onstage, so important that the public must be distracted from it.
Detroit native Rayne, 31, was — like all her counterparts past, present, and future — more than a porn star. But when performers pass it’s difficult for the industry in which they spent so much time to express its grief over the departed, tripping over itself to not talk about her claim to fame in order to be respectful. Even though the expression of our sexuality is part of us, it’s somehow inelegant to talk about Rayne’s libidinous ferocity alongside the love her friends had for her, her musical theatre background, and her adoration of horses, the San Jose Sharks, geekery, and videogames.
One does not cancel out the other.
Instead, we find a respectful (clothed) picture and write as if in hushed tones about a person who was one of the most hardcore and brutal of scene partners, able to dish out and receive punishment with giddy joy. Rayne was the real deal — a person that performer/director Kylie Ireland called both a dear friend and “The Demon Rubber Band.”
“She approached life with such gusto,” Woodman says. “When [a bondage performer] says to me, ‘I can take a beating,’ I just laugh and think of Amber.”
At the time of her death Rayne (who was “out” with her real name, Meghan Maxwell Wren) was transitioning out of the porn industry. She had announced that “Wanted,” the Wicked Pictures movie directed by Stormy Daniels which cleaned up at this year’s AVN and XBiz Awards, would be her swan song.
In a 10-year career that found her starring in more than 500 heavy-duty scenes, including movies showcased around her, Rayne was to porn what, I guess, Luis Guzman, Danny Trejo, or Kathryn Hahn are to mainstream movies — a character who shows up and makes you say “Yeah!” even if she is not the star.
In fact, Rayne won two incarnations of an Unsung Starlet honor at both the XRCO and AVN Awards. Of the literally hundreds of trophies handed out at the big porn award shows, the Unsung Starlet award has no motive other than a show of deep respect; it’s the purest porn award there is.
Rayne’s ability to connect was integral to who she was; it’s a talent that is often overlooked in her peer group by the rest of the world. In a business in which jobs regularly begin and end in a day or two, in which working relationships morph into friendly ones as people constantly re-meet each other in different houses among different casts and crews, Rayne was always present and vital. It was important for her to not disappear into her phone. Do porn people crave attention? Sometimes, but what I think is more accurate is that they crave connection. Maybe they didn’t have enough of it or they had plenty and wanted to keep the ball rolling.
(But that’s kind of a facile, either/or setup, too. I’ll just say that Rayne seemed to not take moments for granted.)
I met Rayne a couple of dozen times since her arrival in Porn Valley in 2005. Once, on the set of “Cousin Stevie’s Pussy Party,” she walked up to me in an empty room, said “Hi, Gram,” and fisted herself. Just stripped down and, you know, fisted herself right up to her bracelet. Earlier we had talked about what the appeal was and she said something like, “Fisting is the porn version of extreme sports.”
I had nothing to top that with. Later we talked about the recent reboot of “Doctor Who.”
I can’t separate this ridiculous, gleeful memory from any of the others, including going for drinks, talking about goofy things, and being struck, again and again, by how sweet she was.
Another trap porn performer obituaries fall into is that, in a rush to avoid the sex and emphasize what is essentially a false opposite — how kind that person was, for example — there’s no gray. We don’t get an idea of a multifaceted individual.
“If it’s off the charts and hardcore, Amber is your girl,” wrote Kylie Ireland in an epic story of a porn shoot gone wrong that Rayne helped save. “I don’t think there is anything she won’t do. Amber is one of my very good friends; I tell her she has an older, wiser soul than her actual age.”
This is true. Hot on the heels of the gutting sadness that was the news she was gone came the surprise that Rayne was only 31. She had the cool of an older person.
But that didn’t mean Rayne let everything slide. A grabby extra on the set of 2008’s big budget porn “The 8th Day” nearly got his head taken off by the Demon Rubber Band.
“It used to surprise me how people on the outside treated porn people,” she told me at the time. “Now I don’t get surprised; I just get even.”
Last year Rayne was one of several performers to come forward in accusing James Deen of impropriety and assault. Deen denied the charges.
“I only knew her for a short time, but in that time I shared many close stories with her,” says Anikka Albrite on her facebook page. “We bonded over horses and the ups and downs of life.”
Rayne stayed close to her family, was an equestrian (she leaves behind a horse whom Stormy Daniels is helping Rayne’s family to place), and worked as a tour manager for 80’s hair metal bands. She also had the occasional gig in character design for videogames.
Performer Prince Yahshua, who received Rayne’s final tweet, “I love you,” the night before she died, wrote on his own Twitter account:
My heart is bleeding and my soul is crushed. There will never be another you, never! Enjoy heaven as we all enjoyed you on earth.
No immediate plans for a public memorial have been set, but a short trip around the web reveals how fondly Rayne was regarded.
“Nobody didn’t love her,” Woodman says. “She lived a lot of life in that short time.”
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: And on “The 8th Day,” God Blew Up Boston; Beating Up Amber Rayne at the American Hotel; Why Is This Man Staring at Amber Rayne’s Shoulder?