THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF BEING RON JEREMY
Over 25 years in the porn business, Ron Jeremy has become its biggest – and most unlikely – star. In his latest porn-free release, a portal is found that allows people to step inside Ron’s head. Hotdog duly took the plunge. Story: Leigh Singer
In 2002, Adult Video News, the Vanity Fair of the porn industry, ran a poll of the Top Porn Stars of All Time. Who, so to speak, would come out on top? Legendary swordsman and Boogie Nights inspiration John Holmes? Deep Throat’s Linda Lovelace? Modern moguls like Rocco Siffredi or Jenna Jameson? Nope. The “most recognizable porn ambassador to the world” is a short, chunky, very hairy guy with a thick moustache, nicknamed ‘The Hedgehog’. “It was a nice honour,” says Ron Jeremy of landing AVN’s No.1 ranking, “but I worked very, very hard at it.”
And how. Since his entry into the adult movie industry back in 1978, Jeremy, now 52, has appeared in a world record 1750+ porn films, directed around 300 of them and “co-starred” with an estimated 4,000 women. He may not be your typical chiseled, six-pack packing beefcake but Jeremy doesn’t come up short in the necessary area for his line of work (in younger, leaner days, Jeremy was known for his ability to blow his own, er, trumpet), has developed a reputation for remarkable stamina - personal record: fourteen women in four hours - and an unerring ability to deliver the…goods, right on cue.
Okay, as jobs go, sleeping with a never-ending succession of beautiful young women is hardly as grueling as coalmining, but few can do what Jeremy can. Freely identifying himself as “the lighter side of porn”, it’s precisely his good-natured Everyman qualities that his fans relate to – he one’s of us as well as the pro’s pro. Still, not even that really justifies his classic tongue-in-cheek (at least you hope it’s a tongue in there) quote: "Porn's the purest form of acting. I'd like to see Sir Laurence Olivier perform Macbeth, in its entirety, with all that dialogue— and a boner. It's not that easy."
Neither was getting hold of him today. Hotdog called his L.A home number at the appointed time, only to be greeted by a mumbling, comatose-sounding Ron, who claims to know nothing of our scheduled chat and signs off with an inaudible suggestion for an alternate appointment. The official PR rep excuse, wincingly offered, is “he’s not so good in the mornings.” The temptation to offer some limp gag about his nighttime prowess is hard to resist.
Yet half an hour and a few frantic transatlantic PR calls later, Ron’s back on the line, apologizing and sounding slightly more conscious. We’re meant to discuss the DVD release of Being Ron Jeremy, a spoof version of the Charlie Kaufman / Spike Jonze masterpiece, whose tagline demands, “Who Wants to Be John Malkovich When You Can Be Ron Jeremy?” As in Malkovich, a nerd finds a portal into his hero’s head and gets physically experience his life. “It’s kinda cute and actually pretty funny,” says Ron. “John Malkovich is a great guy, a great thespian actor and all, but it’s more fun being inside my body, you know what I mean?”
The film itself is a mercifully brief skit mixing C-list comedians with B-list porn starlets. Jeremy clearly enjoys sending himself up but the Farrelly Brothers certainly have little to worry about. In fact far more stimulating is the DVD extra of one of Jeremy’s stand-up gigs, a mix of innuendo-laden quips and some frank insights into the adult industry. His gags aren’t the freshest but when it comes to discussing his business, Jeremy engages and easily holds the stage. Suddenly that “ambassador” label starts to resonate.
This is precisely what makes Jeremy different. Early on in his career, he made a conscious effort to crossover to the mainstream – as far as the star of The Wizard of Ahh’s and Reservoir Bitches can. “In America I did a lot of music videos for MTV, and that really helps in getting the kids to know who you are,” he reasons. “Bands have put my name in their songs, talk show hosts like Jay Leno make Ron Jeremy jokes. The thing about being famous is, the more famous you get, the more famous you get.”
Jeremy’s ubiquity, combined with his self-deprecating humour and apparent willingness to try anything, has led him down many unexpected paths. How many other adult movie stars have attempted the aforementioned stand-up career? Or been invited to address the Oxford University Union, joining company such as Winston Churchill and the Dalai Lama? Or starred in prime-time reality TV shows like the recent Channel 5 series The Farm?
Any slightly woozy viewers who tuned in by accident to see the frankly disturbing sight of Ron tussling with Keith Harris and Orville the Duck could be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled into some utterly depraved adult movie, but thankfully the only personal things Ron and Orville shared were one-liners. “Keith’s great,” Ron says warmly. “I really enjoyed telling my friends in America that I lost a show to a talking duck.”
Still, given his mainstream career aspirations, isn’t one person who would, at least in part, rather be John Malkovich than Ron Jeremy, Ron himself? “It’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of it like that,” he admits. “The funny thing is, as far as being in the mainstream, the answer is yes… I’d rather be me as far as I enjoy being me but I’d love to have that type of career of course.”
Growing up in a well-to-do Jewish family in Queens, New York, young Ronald Jeremy Hyatt was a smart kid. He earned a degree in Theatre and a Masters in Special Education, which he then taught for two years. But he’d always dreamed of becoming an actor. When an ex-girlfriend sent in his naked photo to Playgirl magazine, Ron genuinely thought it was a fast track to legitimate showbiz.
“People think light of it, but in the late 70s, early 80s there was no DVD, video, Internet,” he points out. “After Deep Throat they were looking to have more features shot on film with storylines, some decent acting and make regular movies that happened to have sex in them. Films like Fascination, Co-Ed Fever, Talk Dirty to Me… these are some of the classics. I came out of that era. I even took the sex scene as the character. I played a nerd in Fascination so I would have sex like a nerd. If I was playing a nasty, aggressive guy, I’d have sex that way.”
Jeremy sounds impassioned as he relates this, but surely he’s too clued-up not to see the incongruity. He may believe he’s acting a character-based dramatic scene. Yet it’s unlikely that the typical adult movie viewer is looking for tips on Stanislavsky’s ‘Method’ as they watch him perform in Terms of Endowment. When he does appear in the mainstream, he’s a bona fide cult celebrity, generally viewed with affection even by plenty of people who’ve never watched him in action. But he’ll always be Ron Jeremy, Porn Star – and not everyone wants the professional association.
“It’s exactly true,” he concedes. “It’s helped me get some work and it’s cost me some work. I worked on a film called Ronin with Robert DeNiro, but they cut me out of that because audiences applauded when I appeared onscreen. The producers said get him out of there, he’s slowing up the action. Recognition cost me the part. Whereas in a film like Detroit Rock City the producers saw the audience recognized me and it was more ‘put him in the trailer’. They had a whole different attitude.”
In general, though, Ron’s ‘legitimate’ acting career is a series of cameos and visual punchlines. Sure, he’s been hired as consultant on films like 9 1/2 Weeks and Boogie Nights – “the director and the whole cast came to all my sets, with the exception of Burt Reynolds, who said he didn’t need to see adult movies,” he laughs – but his onscreen cameos in both ended up on the cutting room floor. Nowadays it seems he half expects it. “I did a film with Tony Scott and Keira Knightley, Domino,” he says proudly. “I play a bail-jumping drug dealer. I’m hoping to God that they keep my part in.”
He also acknowledges porn’s “single biggest downside”: the effect it has on lasting relationships. ”Light ones, fun ones, goofy, sexual, those are easy,” he offers. “Serious relationships are tough. But it isn’t just porn stars, the same thing happens to rock stars, rap stars, movie stars. I don’t think any girl with an IQ higher than broccoli would take a porn star or a rock star seriously as a relationship.”
Which makes one wonder why Jeremy still makes adult films, albeit now exclusively for one company, Metro, and only maybe once a month. Can he possibly still enjoy it? “Yes. The girls are still gorgeous, you know. I was complaining to my friend the screenwriter Adam Rifkin [Mouse Hunt] one day, ‘I don’t feel like going to work today’” he chuckles. “And he was like, ‘Oh, shut up! Don’t let the Man get you down…’ I use that line in my comedy show now.”
Down the phoneline, Ron is now definitely on, warmed up; his comic patter feels like he’s rehearsing new stand-up material. “When I saw [fellow contestants] the two Emmas – Emma B and Emma Noble – on The Farm,” he goofs, “I thought, man, why can’t this be a porn film…” When it comes to being Ron Jeremy, you have to give him credit – he’s got the act down pat. But being so defined by his part, you wonder whether he’ll ever be able to play anything else.
Ron Jeremy’s not the only adult movie star to try his hand at crossing over…
Since causing industry uproar in the mid-1980s through the discovery of her involvement in numerous underage sex films, Lords has reappeared onscreen in films like John Waters’ Cry Baby opposite Johnny Depp and Blade.
80s porn favourite and Charlie Sheen’s ex had small roles in Young Guns II and the Wing Commander series. Appears in Rob Zombie’s upcoming The Devil’s Rejects.
Porn’s biggest male star of wholesome titles like his Animal Trainer series inserted his talent into French arthouse fare like Catherine Breillat’s Intimacy and Anatomy of Hell.
Star of 1972 ‘classic’ Behind the Green Door, the former ‘Ivory Soap’ ad girl went on to star in David Cronenberg’s horror film Rabid.