Gillis was diagnosed with melanoma late last year and succumbed this weekend in New York.
To Gillis can be credited so many things: a Columbia graduate and trained actor, he helped make porn accessible to a more cerebral crowd, and then was an early practitioner of gonzo porn with his “On the Prowl” series (becoming the inspiration for Burt Reynolds’ Jack Horner character in “Boogie Nights”). He explained to Susie Bright in 2007, “Bring a girl out – maybe to a dirty bookstore or something — and just throw her to the wolves.”
UPDATE: Bright asks that I convey the context in which Gillis talked about throwing a girl to the wolves. He found it strange that, when men at a dirty bookstore were presented at the chance to fuck a porn star, many turned and ran. What made him such a great pornographer was that he was a sociologist, too. Look below for a link to their full interview.
He left porn several times and made a few comebacks, but stayed away for the past several years, despite entreaties from several directors (including the late David Aaron Clark, who said, “I almost had him, but he was antsy” for a project in 2008).
Gillis was a trailblazer. Bisexual, promiscuous, and unashamed, he answered a Village Voice nude model ad and arrived in the adult industry (he told Susie Bright, “There wasn’t even a business. It was a dirty basement”) through a groovy window that closed with the advent of AIDS and its attendant homophobia. And his films display a range of tastes and genres – transsexuals, BDSM, hardcore, features, POV, erotic art, gonzo – that today’s market and morals no longer support.
To watch Gillis at work was to see someone comfortable in his own skin (“I was a duck to water,” he told Bright). Whatever kind of sex he was having or directing, he made it look fun.
“Whatever works,” he said.
Juliet Anderson, the star of “Aunt Peg” (in which Gillis appeared), died on January 11, making the past year particularly tough on classic porn stars.
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Your weekend cavalcade of pubes; The heyday of Plato’s Retreat; Aunt Peg; Marilyn Chambers – Beyond the Far Door
See also: Great article on Jamie Gillis from NoNoZero, The Prince of Gonzo Porn: Susie Bright interviews Jamie Gillis