- Category : Actor
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Split - Small (11,17)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sphinx 3
John Curtis Holmes (August 8, 1944 – March 13, 1988) better known as John C. Holmes or Johnny Wadd (after the lead character in a series of related films), was one of the most prolific male porn stars of all time, appearing in about 2250 adult loops and pornographic feature movies in the 1970s and 1980s. He was best known for his exceptionally large penis, which was heavily promoted as being the longest, thickest, and hardest in the porn industry, although no definitive measurement of Holmes' actual penis length exists. Near the end of his life, Holmes attracted notoriety for his involvement in the Wonderland murders in 1981, and eventually for his death from complications caused by AIDS.
Holmes was the subject of several books, a lengthy essay in Rolling Stone, and two feature length documentaries; he also inspired two Hollywood films (Boogie Nights and Wonderland).
John Holmes was born John Curtis Estes on August 8, 1944 in the small rural town of Ashville, Ohio, located a few miles south of the state capital of Columbus. John was the youngest of four children born to 26-year-old Mary June Holmes (née Barton); his father's name was not listed on his birth certificate. Mary and her husband, Edward Holmes, the father of Holmes' three older siblings, Dale, Edward and Anne, were separated numerous times throughout their marriage. Mary changed John's surname to Holmes when he was a child. It was not until 1986, prior to a trip to Italy and while applying for a US passport to travel abroad, when his mother provided him with the hand-written copy of his original birth certificate, that Holmes learned the name of his biological father, Carl Estes. John's mother was a devout Southern Baptist, who regularly attended the Milport Chapel Church along with her children, where John had perfect attendance.
John's stepfather, Edward Holmes, was an alcoholic who would come home inebriated, stumble about the house, and even vomit on the children. As a child, John enjoyed a reprieve from his turbulent home life when he would visit his maternal grandparents. Mary Holmes divorced her husband when Holmes was three or four and moved with her children to Columbus, Ohio, where they lived in a low-income apartment project with a friend of Mary's and her two children. The two women worked as clerks and waitresses in order to support their young children. When Holmes was eight, his mother married Harold Bowman.
Shortly afterward, Holmes and his family moved from Columbus and settled in the small town of Pataskala, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Columbus. Holmes recalled that Bowman was a good father until his younger half-brother, David, was born, at which point Bowman lost interest in his non-biological children and began neglecting them.
Because he was the youngest, John began to suffer beatings at the hands of Bowman (who is said by Laurie Holmes in the 2008 John Holmes biography A Life Measured in Inches, to have had bipolar disorder) that continued well into his late adolescence. By the time he reached his teenage years, Holmes, who was very tall and strong for his age, fought back and knocked him out cold after Bowman had thrown him down a flight of stairs. After this incident, Holmes ran away from home at age 16, and after several days of living on the streets, returned home and informed his mother that if he moved back in he would probably kill Bowman should he strike him again.
With his mother's written permission, Holmes dropped out of high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 16. After Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, he spent three years in West Germany in the Signal Corps. Upon his honorable discharge, Holmes moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in a variety of jobs, including selling goods door-to-door and tending the vats at a Coffee-Nips factory. It was during his stint as an ambulance driver that he met a nurse named Sharon Gebenini in December 1964. They married in August 1965.
Holmes found work as a forklift driver at a meat packing warehouse in nearby Cudahy, California. However, repeated exposures to inhaling the sub-freezing air in the large walk-in freezer after being outside inhaling the desert-hot air caused severe health problems, leading to a pneumothorax of his right lung on three separate occasions between seven to nine months during the two years he worked there. According to Sharon Holmes, during the first 17 months of Sharon's marriage to John, she suffered three miscarriages.
"John Holmes was to the adult film industry what Elvis Presley was to rock 'n' roll. He simply was The King."
Exactly when Holmes began his career in porn is difficult to determine because he (and others) have related several different and conflicting stories. One story is that Holmes met a young woman who offered him $100 to have sex with her on camera in a seedy apartment in Los Angeles, which was filmed as his first silent 8mm loop. Sharon, later told interviewers: in 1967, while Holmes was unemployed and recovering from his collapsed lung ailment, he went a few evenings a week to a card-playing club called the Poker Palace, located in Gardena, California. It was there that a photographer, standing next to Holmes at a men's room urinal, saw Holmes' "unusually large penis" and asked him to pose in still photographs. Adult film director Kirdy Stevens (documented in John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches) submits: Holmes had actually started adult work in 1965, when Stevens and his wife Helene Terrie hired Holmes and Holmes' girlfriend, starlet Sandy Dempsey, to appear in nudist films along with several other unknowns. Stevens said that two years later, in 1967, he hired Holmes and Dempsey to appear in one of the first series of hardcore loops for mail order in the United States produced by Stevens and Terrie. The loop can be seen in Stevens' 1979 hardcore film Little Me and Marla Strangelove. Holmes would also pose in various underground porn magazines as well as appearing in additional 8mm loops or stag films, while keeping his profession a secret from his wife until 1968.
Determining the number of films he made during the early part of his career is also difficult because the ad copy rarely named him, and credits that did usually used entirely inconsistent names. For example, one early "Swedish Erotica" brochure from 1973 has five loops featuring Holmes, each with a different stage name. In the early years of his porn career, Holmes was nicknamed "The Sultan of Smut", a pun on Babe Ruth's nickname, The Sultan of Swat.
In 1971, Holmes' career began to take off with a porn series built around a private investigator named Johnny Wadd, most episodes of which were written and directed by Bob Chinn. The success of the first film of the series, Johnny Wadd, created an immediate demand for more Johnny Wadd films so Chinn followed up with Flesh of the Lotus (1971). A steady stream of Johnny Wadd films followed, including Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here (1976), Liquid Lips (1976), The Jade Pussycat (1977), The China Cat (1978), and Blonde Fire (1978), all of which were huge box office successes. The last five Johnny Wadd films were produced by Freeway Films, an L.A.-based company owned and operated by Armand Atamian.
With the success of Deep Throat (1972), Behind the Green Door (1972), and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), porn became chic, although its legality was still hotly contested. In 1973, Holmes was arrested during this time for pimping and pandering (not because it was illegal to make or possess porn, but because paying the actors qualified as pimping and pandering, and on the bust in question, John paid the girls himself), but he avoided prison time by becoming an informant for the LAPD. Using his status as an informer, it is alleged[by whom?] Holmes systematically had his competition in the porn industry arrested, although there is no substantiated evidence to support the claim that anyone in the adult industry was arrested as a result of Holmes' efforts. Retired LAPD Detective, Tom Blake, later talked about becoming Holmes' undercover contact and handler while Blake was working as a vice squad officer during the 1970s . In the 1998 documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, he discussed working with Holmes and described how Holmes would contact him with information about the underground porn industry as well as give him the names of various actors, actresses, directors, and financiers of the porn films and when they would be filmed. In the documentary, Blake did not cite names of people that Holmes was alleged to have provided, suggesting that Holmes' information was either manufactured or false.
By 1978, Holmes was reputed to be earning as much as $3,000 a day as a porn actor.
By the late 1970s, his consumption of cocaine and freebasing was becoming a serious problem. Professionally, it affected his ability to maintain an erection, as is apparent from his flaccid performance in the 1980 film Insatiable. To support himself and his drug habit, Holmes ventured into crime, selling drugs for gangs, prostituting himself to both men and women, and committing credit card fraud and petty theft. In 1976, he met a 15-year-old girl, named Dawn Schiller, who became his girlfriend. After Holmes fell on hard times, he prostituted both her and himself, as well as beat her in public.
Number of partners
In the 1981 documentary, Exhausted, John C. Holmes: The Real Story, Holmes began to claim that he had had intercourse with 14,000 women. The number had in fact been invented by Holmes to help salvage his waning image. (Holmes later joked to psychologist Dr. Vonda L. Pelto, who had counselled Holmes in 1982 and other notorious inmates during her employment at L.A. County jail, that he was exaggerating the number — which was actually 13,895.) To substantiate this number, and assuming Holmes' first experience with a woman occurred at 16, then he would have had to have sex with 666 women a year—1.8 women a day—for the next 21 years. Pornography historian Luke Ford calculated the number of Holmes' sexual partners over the course of his lifetime to be a relatively modest 3,000, or 2.7 new women per week.
His performances included at least one homosexual feature film, The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes in 1983.
Drugs and the Wonderland murders
In 1980, Holmes developed a close friendship with drug dealer and nightclub owner Eddie Nash. At the same time, Holmes was closely associated with the Wonderland Gang, a group of heroin-addicted cocaine dealers, so-called for the location of their hideout: a rowhouse located at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in the wooded Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. At the time the Wonderland Gang was the most widely feared cocaine distribution organization in California due to their brazen tactics, which included daylight ripoffs of rival drug dealers.
Holmes worked for the gang, frequently selling or delivering drugs for them. After stealing money during a couple of drug runs, Holmes was in trouble with the gang. In June 1981, allegedly in exchange for his life, he told gang leaders about a very large stash of drugs, money, and jewelry Nash had in his house. Holmes helped to set up a robbery that was committed on the morning of June 29, 1981.
Although Holmes did not participate in the robbery, Nash apparently suspected that Holmes had a part in it. After getting Holmes to confess to his participation, and threatening his life and that of Holmes' family, Nash allegedly exacted revenge against the Wonderland Gang. In the early hours of July 1, 1981, four of the gang's members were found bludgeoned to death in their hideout; a fifth victim was left brain damaged and lost a finger. Holmes was allegedly present during what came to be called the "Four on the Floor" murders, but it is unclear whether or not he participated in the killings. As the LA Weekly reported, "Veteran LAPD detectives, just 12 years after Helter Skelter, claimed they had never seen so much blood at one crime scene."
Nash eventually agreed to a plea bargain in 2001 for conspiracy to commit the Wonderland Murders, among two other charges for RICO violations and money laundering.
Holmes was questioned regarding the murders in July 1981, but was released due to lack of evidence. Holmes refused to cooperate with the investigation. After spending nearly five months on the run with Dawn Schiller, he was arrested in Florida on December 4, 1981 by LAPD homicide detectives Tom Lange and Frank Tomlinson and returned to Los Angeles. In March 1982, Holmes was charged with personally committing all four murders. On June 26, 1982, after a three-week public trial, Holmes was acquitted of all charges except contempt of court.
In November 1982, after serving over 100 days of jail time for contempt of court (the longest in California history at that time)and unrelated robbery charges, Holmes was released and almost immediately re-entered the adult entertainment business. However, his cocaine use and freebasing continued on and off.
By the early to mid-1980s, the adult film industry began the transition of making porn movies on videotape instead of film. Holmes continued to find work during his comeback, and along with many of his male contemporaries, he helped to usher in the new starlets of the decade such as Ginger Lynn, Amber Lynn, Sheri St. Claire, and Kimberly Carson as upcoming directors focused on looking for younger talent. Most of Holmes' appearances in adult films and videos during the 1980s were cameos as he started concentrating his efforts on working in other facets of the adult industry. Coinciding with the revival of his film career, Holmes and his partner and manager, Bill Amerson, were hired in 1984 by VCX, where Holmes worked part-time as a line producer and director.
Ultimately, Amerson contends, Holmes embezzled approximately a quarter-million dollars from him. Others have contested Amerson's embezzlement claim. In the biography, John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches it is revealed that Bill Amerson incorporated their joint company, Penguin, once Holmes fell ill, cutting Holmes out of the partnership. After the fact, Amerson failed to pay the company's creditors who had granted Penguin funds to produce films. Holmes' ex-wife Sharon later told an L.A. Weekly reporter covering the film Wonderland she was not surprised that her ex-husband returned to the adult film industry after his release from contempt:
“The moral of Wonderland for me is your choices and what you do with them. You dig down deep and find something. And John didn’t have anything to dig down and find anymore. That’s why he went back to the porn business. That’s why he went back to stealing.”
In February 1986, five or six months after testing negative for the virus, Holmes was diagnosed as HIV positive after a second HIV test. According to his second wife, Laurie Holmes (porn name Misty Dawn), he claimed that he never used hypodermic needles and was deeply afraid of them. Both his first wife, Sharon, as well as Bill Amerson separately confirmed later that Holmes could not have contracted HIV from intravenous drug use because he never used needles.
During the summer of 1986, Holmes was offered a substantial sum of money by Paradise Visuals (who were unaware of Holmes' HIV-positive status) to travel to Italy, where he filmed his last two porno movies. The next-to-last was The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empress (originally released in Italy as Carne Bollente) for director Riccardo Schicchi. The film starred Holmes, the later Italian Parliament member Ilona "Cicciolina" Staller, Tracey Adams, Christoph Clark, and Amber Lynn. His final film was The Devil in Mr. Holmes, starring Tracey Adams, Amber Lynn, Karin Schubert, and Marina Hedman. These last films created a furor when it was revealed that Holmes had consciously chosen to not reveal his HIV status to his co-stars before engaging in unprotected sex for the filming.
Unwilling to reveal the true nature of his failing health, Holmes claimed to the press, his friends, and Paradise Visuals that he was suffering from colon cancer. Holmes married Laurie Rose on January 23, 1987 in Las Vegas, after confiding to her that he had AIDS.
In the 2008 publication, "John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches", Laurie Holmes spoke about her late husband with reverence."Fishing, camping, garage sale-ing, going to the movies, going to the beach, going to museums -- loved fire crackers, amusement parks, as well as the great outdoors. John was fond of all God's creatures. We had cats, dogs and birds. He had a great respect for animal life and believed you shouldn't kill what you didn't eat."
At Holmes' personal request, Laurie ensured John's anatomy was intact when he was cremated.
During the last five months of his life, Holmes remained in the VA hospital on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles. John Holmes died from AIDS-related complications (according to his death certificate, cardiorespiratory arrest and encephalitis due to AIDS, associated with lymphadenopathy and esophageal candidiasis) on March 13, 1988 at the age of 43. His body was cremated, and his widow Laurie, his mother Mary, and half-brother David scattered his ashes at sea off the coast of Oxnard, California.
In August 1965, he married a young nurse named Sharon Gebenini (played by Lisa Kudrow in the film Wonderland (2003), on which Sharon Holmes is credited as a consultant). He remained married to her until their divorce was finalized on January 17, 1983.
In 1975, he met Julia St. Vincent on the set of his film, Liquid Lips, which was being produced by her uncle, Armand Atamian. Holmes and St. Vincent stayed close until 1981 and the Wonderland affair. St. Vincent produced the ersatz biographical film of Holmes' life, Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story.
In 1976, John met Dawn Schiller (played by Kate Bosworth in the film Wonderland (2003), on which Schiller is credited as an associate producer) when she was 15, and within six months began a five-year affair with her that - after Holmes became heavily involved with drugs - included his getting Dawn hooked as well, beating her up, and prostituting her. Schiller has related her experiences and their aftermath in such outlets as the Marie Claire article titled "I Dated a Porn Star" (August 19, 2010) and the book The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes (2010). Ironically, Dawn is now Sharon Holmes' legal guardian. As Schiller told Marie Claire: "I found out she was homeless in L.A., so I went there in 2006 and got her. She lives in a facility a few blocks away from me here in Oregon. I'm her legal guardian. She apologized the best she could [for being "one of many adults around me who did nothing"]. I've accepted that, and we've moved on."
In 1983, Holmes met his second wife, Laurie Rose (stage name Misty Dawn). They married in January 1987. Holmes was stepfather to Rose's young son, who was eight years old when Holmes passed away.
John Holmes was godfather to three of partner Bill Amerson's children, Sean, Denise and Shannon Amerson.
The true number of women (and men) with whom Holmes had sex during his career will never be completely known. After his death, his ex-wife Sharon came across a foot locker plated in 24k gold leaf, which allegedly contained photographic references of his "private work". She burned all of it.
Holmes' main asset in the porn business was his exceptionally large penis. No definitive or verifiable measurement exists, leaving its exact size unknown.
Veteran porn actress Dorothea "Seka" Patton has stated that Holmes' penis was the biggest in the industry. Holmes' first wife recalled his claiming to be 10 inches (25 cm) when he first measured himself. Holmes himself once claimed his penis to be 23 inches (58 cm) long and 17 inches (43 cm) in circumference. Holmes' long-time friend and industry associate, Bill Amerson, said that "I saw John measure himself several times, it was 13 and a half inches" (34.3 cm). (In contrast, medical studies of human penis size have consistently found erections average between about 5 and 6 inches.) A review of Holmes' films over the course of his career shows that most of his early co-stars tended to be short and slender, whereas women with whom he engaged in on-screen sex later in his career were much taller and had proportionately larger bodies; as a result, the size of Holmes' penis appears to fluctuate in his films, relative to the height and mass of his co-stars.
Another controversy regards whether Holmes ever achieved a full erection, although much of his early work clearly reveals he was able to achieve a substantial erection. A popular joke in the 1970s porn industry held that Holmes was incapable of achieving a full erection because the blood flow from his head into his penis would cause him to pass out. Annette Haven stated that his penis was never particularly hard during intercourse, likening it to "doing it with a big, soft kind-of loofah."
In The Wonderland Murders chapter 13, "Wadd Forever", TruCrime TV's Julia Scheeres reports:
"John Holmes made one last request of his wife before he died, Laurie Holmes writes in Porn King. Fearing that someone would snip off his famous appendage, Holmes asked her to ensure that his body was intact before it was rolled into the furnace to be cremated. 'He didn't want it to end up on a shelf or in a jar as a conversation piece or collectible,' his widow wrote, adding that everything was where it was supposed to be. Today, however, John C. Holmes lives on as a collectible of a different sort: a 12.5-inch rubber dildo."
Business activities and endeavors
In 1979, Holmes with his younger half-brother, David Bowman, opened up a locksmith and used furniture store called The Just Looking Emporium in Los Angeles, which both managed. But because of Holmes' escalating drug addiction and of the lack of money to operate the store since Holmes was squandering all of his and other people's money to buy cocaine for himself, the business failed by the end of that very year.
Later, about two years after his 1982 murder trial and acquittal, Holmes began a business partnership with his friend and associate Bill Amerson, as they founded and operated a production company titled Penguin Productions, where Holmes could be a triple-threat: writing, directing, and performing. Holmes appeared in seven of Penguin's twenty video productions between 1985 and 1988. After requesting permission from his old director friend Bob Chinn to use the name, Holmes reprised the detective role for the 1986 Penguin Production: The Return of Johnny Wadd. The script was written by newcomer Raven Touchstone and directed by Patti Rhodes-Lincoln.
Despite Holmes' notoriety and infamy, he also devoted substantial time to environmental causes. Holmes was known to campaign and collect door-to-door for charities such as Save The Whales. According to his two wives Sharon Holmes and Laurie Holmes, and several girlfriends documented in John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches, Holmes enjoyed woodworking, sketching, sculpting and writing poetry.
Holmes' career was promoted with a series of outrageous claims that he made over the years (many made up on the spur of the moment by Holmes himself). The most dubious ones include:
Holmes' penis was so big that he had to stop wearing underwear because "I was getting erections and snapping the elastic waist band 4 or 5 times a month."
Holmes had degrees in physical therapy, medicine, and political science from UCLA. According to Bill Amerson, "the closest John ever got to UCLA was breaking into cars in the school's parking lot."
A teenage Holmes played the role of Eddie Haskell in the TV series Leave It to Beaver. (The character was portrayed by actor Ken Osmond, who bore a resemblance to Holmes.)