Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rest in Peace, James and Erik

Over the years I have often celebrated my favorite female entertainers but rarely do I pay homage to my favorite male entertainers--certain filmmakers notwithstanding. I may relate most to Marilyn Chambers, but I don't give nearly enough credit to the male porn stars whom I adore.

Erik Rhodes was one of those porn stars.

I first saw Erik onscreen in The Farmer's Son during my last semester at Emerson College. I reacted to him the way straight men and lesbians must have reacted to Marilyn Chambers forty years ago: Erik looked more like the guys I crushed on in real life than he looked like the guys I lusted after in X-rated films. At 25, he was beautiful, and more importantly, he seemed happy, and didn't leave the audience feeling guilty for watching. But I adored him far more in the "making of" featurette, where we saw him being funny and playful and human. It was obvious that everyone on set loved him, and that they knew the audience would feel the same way.

After I graduated college, I moved to New York. A few months after I moved there, I stumbled upon Erik's MySpace page and was once again struck by his beauty, his masculinity, and his overwhelming Old Hollywood star quality. I thought he was the most legitimately macho European American actor to come along since Mickey Rourke. When I learned that he lived in New York too and that we were only four months apart in age, I found myself both idolizing him and desperately wanting to make him fall madly in love with me.

But then I stumbled onto his blog.

At the time, I was in a dark and lonely place, but had no idea this seemingly ideal man of my dreams was plagued by his own demons. It was only a few months after I had seen him happy onscreen, so I was shocked by the unhappy tone of his writing. He seemed miserable, and the men who commented on his posts all seemed as shocked as I was and as sincerely compassionate. I did not like Erik less after that, but I realized then that I had transplanted the face of all my fantasy men onto Erik. I also viewed him as a perfected version of myself: being a porn icon who could bridge the gap between hardcore and Hollywood was a dream I inherited from Marilyn Chambers. Erik was better looking than me and better suited for the camera, but I had no idea until I read his blog that my dreams were not his goals. Reading his words humanized him, and though that killed my fantasy, it underlined his talent: even in subsequent years, his sadness never showed onscreen. Like Marilyn, he was a damn good actor. And like Marilyn, he was taken from us before being given the opportunity to shine outside of the X-rated universe.

I feel especially shocked today because when I recently joined Twitter I immediately started following Erik and all of the favorite adult film actors of my twenties. I wanted to know where their lives were at, and to confirm my still-standing belief that there can be such a thing as "a happy porn star". Reading Erik's Tweets over the last few weeks, I was struck by the negativity and self-destructive tendencies revealed in so many comments that were seemingly made in jest. He couldn't seem to hide his pain even when he was joking back and forth with friends. Recent comments that he made about "all gay men" and his embarrassment over revealing that Madonna's "Has To Be" always made him cry prompted me to reach out to him. I was expanding and polishing a paper I wrote in college for inclusion on my blog, one I had intended to post on June 20th, exactly nine months after my 30th birthday. But on June 12th, someone reminded me in a conversation that my obsession with dates and numbers might be more "OCD" than "numerology". So that night I published my piece about the struggle of non-conforming gay males to fit into the gay community. I didn't publish it for Erik, but he was the one person I planned to Tweet it to.

Before I went to bed, in the early hours of June 13th, I sent him the link. His last Tweet was dated June 11th, and by the tone of his recent comments, I had a lurking, dark fear that I consciously chose to ignore. I kept going online to see if he'd sent any Tweets, trying to gather if what I wrote connected with him. I was so certain it would. Maybe it did. When I went onto Twitter today I saw the news of his passing, and immediately felt my heart ripped out.

Three years ago, Marilyn Chambers died unexpectedly, mere weeks after I had been working on a screenplay that I was convinced could bring her the artistic respect and Hollywood stardom she had been denied for thirty-five years. It may have been the naive dream of an amateur writer, but either way, it was crushed on April 12th, 2009. On June 14th, 2012, the death of Erik Rhodes leaves me with a more complex kind of sadness. I loved his Tweets, but I didn't have any screenplays written that I hoped he could be cast in. I adored him as a person, but my dreams of making him fall in love with me have since become but one memory in a strange life chapter. But, like all people who were born in 1981-1982 in the American Northeast, I felt a generational and regional kinship with Erik. He would have been in my grade in school. If we grew up together, I don't doubt I would have spent my youth madly in love with him. And I probably would have spent a lot of that youth trying to save him from himself. I think that's how most of Erik's fans felt about him.

I must confess I had a fantasy that he would be affected by the piece enough to share it, but my conscience is clear because I know I wasn't trying to dupe a hurt person in order to further myself. His being affected was all that mattered. The only ulterior motive I might have had was the eternal thrill of being one person who could strike a nerve and block someone on the road to his own destruction. I hate to say that the tiny, dark fear I had was a fear he would commit suicide. In turn, I also feared that if I had only posted that piece days earlier instead of waiting then I might have stopped it. It's a ridiculous idea, yet anyone who has lost someone that way can no doubt relate to what prompted such fears. But Erik did not, according to reports, take his own life. He may have allowed death to happen by consciously choosing to put into his body drugs that he knew would one day kill him. I would suspect he that embraced such a scenario. But it still wasn't suicide. Erik was taken because, for some crazy reason, he was supposed to be.

I don't like to divide and offend by delving into theology and my spiritual beliefs, but let me say this: I do not think that science will ever prove the existence of what some of us refer to as "a higher power". But I DO think that science will prove that our existence is not limited to our life span as a finite physical being. I'll refrain from words like "soul" and "immortality", but I don't think you need to believe that our energy was created by a deity in order to believe that it is endless. 
Erik, whose real name was James, brought much happiness during his short time on Earth, but he was clearly never as happy a person as he always deserved to be. I'm not part of his circle of loved ones, and I'm certainly no medium. But I wouldn't be sharing these thoughts on the day James left us if I wasn't struck by the certainty that he is finally as happy as he wanted to be.

We love you and we miss you....neither Erik nor James will ever be forgotten.

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