NEW YORK—Allan Gassman, who appeared on national talk shows to discuss safe, sane orgies and helped initiate safer sex in the gay adult industry, was found dead in his Manhattan apartment in April. He died of complications of HIV and a suspected drug overdose, according to friends.
Gassman was 47.
A porn performer, director and writer, Gassman documented his safe sex activism in an award-winning documentary The O Boys: Parties, Porn & Politics, which traveled the international film festival circuit, provoking many discussions and controversial panels. The documentary, which won the 1999 GAYVN Award for “Best Alternative Video,” includes interviews with sex activist and author Jill Nagle, playwright Robert Patrick, activist and performer Michael Callen, late porn star Johnny Rey and performer-activist Vince Harrington (aka Michael LaBarbera).
Gassman appeared on The Phil Donahue Show and dozens of news shows discussing his private orgies, The O Boys, which he started in September 1990 with his friend Marshall (who legally changed his name to Marshall O Boy). The gay-centric orgies served as models for sex-positive play in the larger community, and Gassman worked with Nagle and sexologist Carol Queen to develop, promote and explain safe sex parties for all adventurous adults in the U.S.
Gassman’s gay orgies occasionally included famous closeted actors, musicians, sports figures and writers, but the “brotherhood” kept the secrets of those who attended. Consequently, the gatherings often faced criticism for excluding anyone who did not possess a perfect, young body, but Gassman maintained physical perfection had nothing to do with obtaining an invitation.
“You have to be someone I’d like to have sex with, but it’s mostly about attitude, not age or looks or body type,” he said.
When the orgies were criticized as unfair to women, Gassman responded by including well-known porn starlets like Sharon Kane or transsexual performers like Karen Dior (aka Rick Van) and Alexis Arquette.
No slouch when it came to handing out criticism of his own, Gassman frequently took the adult entertainment industry to task for what he viewed as a dangerous hypocrisy: the dichotomy between condom usage in the gay and straight sectors of the business.
“When you have sex, you should assume that everyone is HIV-positive, which is why we always have plenty of condoms at our parties,” Gassman said. “So, why don’t all parts of the adult industry use condoms?”
Not only did Gassman help instigate “The Hottest Depiction of Safe Sex” award that for years was an integral component of the Dickies (the Gay Erotic Video Awards), but he also was one of the primary catalysts behind the AVN Award for “Special Achievement for AIDS Causes.”
As an adult performer, Gassman was known for a series of comical cameos in porn movies. Among the most hilarious: an insurance investigator who exposes insurance fraud claimants during sex-filled vacations in Dior’s Desert Paradise 2. He also appeared in Working it Out, Crossing Over, Sex Toy Story 2 (during which he holds a gay version of a sexy Tupperware party) and California Gold. He helped produce Red, Hot and Safe, for which famous directors and stars donated scenes that were compiled into safe-sex videos distributed at no charge by Video 10. He also directed and produced The O Boys in the 21st Century and a series of O Boys movies.
He published the Dick Brain News, For Men With Both, a newsletter offering the latest sex news, HIV updates and sex club locations.
During his last years, Gassman worked closely with Dior and Mr. Ed (aka Eddie Cacho, former porn star and make-up artist for the industry), who kept in touch with Gassman by phone every week. Mr. Ed traveled to New York to save Gassman’s porn collection when police confiscated the material upon his death. Mr. Ed also secured the rights to Gassman’s ashes.
“Allan was in his apartment alone with his three beloved cats, and the EMT at the site said he had passed two or three days prior,” Mr. Ed told GAYVN.com. “I had last spoken to Allan the day after Easter. He sounded weak but nothing alarming.
“Allan has been a part of my life since June of 1999. The loss has not hit me yet.”
Playwright, critic and GAYVN Awards judge Robert Patrick told GAYVN.com, “Allan popped up in my acting troupe in New York in 1981, slept with every male available—always his way of making sure he was welcome—worked tirelessly for gay teenagers, including two tumultuously successful benefit productions of my play about them, Blue Is for Boys, then moved to [Los Angeles], where he simultaneously ran a [public relations] firm and the O Boys safe-sex orgy club.”
Although early on Gassman was dead-set against drug abuse, friends say he fell under the spell of crystal meth in the past few years.
“He wound up working against a drug he himself was secretly addicted to, and got found out, and returned to New York to die there, it is believed, of the combined effect of drugs and AIDS,” Patrick told GAYVN.com.
Marshall O Boy said he is devastated that his friend succumbed to drug addiction like so many others among their mutual friends.
“Allan had a heart attack not too long ago, and you would have thought it was a warning sign, but he wasn’t able to stop his addiction,” O Boy told GAYVN.com.
“I think Allan would want to be remembered for the history in his documentary and for making sex safe and sane and fun in a time that it was scary for a lot of people,” O Boys added. “What he did was make history, and the documentary is not only an homage to the O Boys, but also to gay culture at the time.”
Gassman’s own words of several years ago back that up: “We have had a lot of fun bringing our message out to the world, and that’s really what it’s all about—education and fun.”
Marshall O Boy plans to organize a tribute in September to mark not only Gassman’s passing, but also the 20th anniversary of the O Boys’ founding and the 10th anniversary of the group’s demise.
Photo: Allan Gassman between Carol Nelson and Steve Nelson during a performance of Robert Patrick’s play Angel, Honey, Baby, Darling, Dear. Photographer: Jonathan Silver.