PORN VALLEY—Following the gala memorial ceremony honoring adult actor John Leslie last week, more of Leslie's fellow performers have weighed in with memories of having worked with and/or been directed by the multi-talented man, thus rounding out the picture of Leslie's contributions to the adult industry.
"John was one of kind," assessed John Stagliano, whose Evil Angel Productions distributes Leslie's movies. "Anyone who ever heard him play harmonica and sing the blues could see what a great talent he was. He was a gritty, dirty-talking, sexually sophisticated artist. He formed a blues band in the mid-’90s, 20 years after his last gig. He did it because he loved music, just like he loved the art of porn. He had an eye for emotion. Watching his movies was like watching him fuck in a scene from his youth. We talked for hours back in the late '80s, while we were both trying to figure out how to create this art that we loved. Anyone who ever questioned whether or not porn is art never had a conversation with John, or saw his movies. He is part of the fabric of the art of porn. He lives on."
"John was an interesting character," remembered Golden Age actress Seka. "I think John took himself much too seriously for his own good. John was a good actor, and he had really good points about some things, and not so good points about other things, but John was a very nice man. He performed well in front of the camera. Sometimes, he was difficult, but I think we can all be difficult in our own ways because we all have our own visions, but the bottom line is, John was a good guy."
"We were all young and silly then, in the '70s; we were all full of piss and vinegar then," she continued. "But John was a very handsome man and I think he got more handsome as he aged, and he was a nice guy to work with as long as you set your friendship or whatever you want to call that—set that forth in play before anything proceeded. Everything was dealt with respectfully. I think John respected you more if you laid out the guidelines to him first. The last time I saw John was at the AVN convention in Vegas with Jamie [Gillis]."
Actor Richard Pacheco recalled the scene as Leslie was being cremated:
"Just returned from the crematorium where I stood next to John's wife, his best friend Joey, and his dog Holmes as we all held each other up, said good-bye and then watched as they loaded his shell into a very big oven," Pacheco wrote in an email to AVN. "It kinda looked like an industrial, working-class MRI machine. Never saw one of those ovens before. Don't really care if I never see another one again. On the way back across the Bay, I listened to the John Leslie Blues Band on a CD. It was very comforting to hear John's voice again. I will have to get used to the idea that there will be no more new conversations. At home, back in my kitchen, I went looking for the obituary that ran in yesterday's Chronicle but can't seem to find it. I searched the recycled papers twice. It finally turned up in the garbage can with a noodle on it. I rescued it—the obituary, not the noodle. I will fold it up and save it somewhere. It will no doubt be thrown out one day when one of my own kids is going through my old papers after I'm gone. Who knows; maybe it will have another noodle on it again one of these days. It takes two and a half hours to cremate a human body. Then they sweep out the oven. They still have to crush some bones and pulverize the teeth, I guess. They package whatever is left in an urn. I knew a man once who wanted to have his ashes taken after he died and put into a plastic mold where they make bicycle seats. He then wanted the seat to be given to Racquel Welch."
Director Paul Thomas shared a memory of a side of Leslie's life that few in the adult industry saw.
"I guess the one memory I can share of him is, he used to rent a house from me in Mill Valley," Thomas told AVN, "and one day he told me he couldn't come up with the rent, and I asked him why—I rode my motorcycle over there and I asked him why? He said, 'Well, I've lifted up to Jesus, taken him into my heart, and I'm going to have to find another way to make a living.' This was probably 1979, maybe, or '78. And I said, 'Okay, well, do the best you can,' and I drove away. And I went to my friend's house, and my friend said to me, 'You know, Jesus worked as a carpenter to pay the rent on the manger. He managed. John Leslie can manage.' So I got back on my bike and I rode over to John's and I told him the same thing: 'Jesus managed to pay the rent; you can pay it too.' And about two days later, he got back into the business. I'm sure he didn't do it just to pay the rent to me. He got back into the business and came up with the rent."
"John was one of the great all-time talents we've had in the business, in front of the camera and behind the camera; one of the true professionals—a true professional with class, which is kind of rare in the entertainment in general, not just porn," said Randy West in a lengthy interview. "We worked together in a few movies. The first one I did when I moved to L.A. was The Dancers. That was the first time I ever worked with Anthony Spinelli, first time I ever worked with John, first time I ever worked with Joey Silvera, first time I ever worked with Richard Pacheco, first time I worked with Vanessa Del Rio. It was a really good shoot up in Northern California—I think it was Richmond or something—and it was a big deal: a week's shoot after three days of rehearsals. That was my first introduction to John, and I realized that I was working with a real actor, not just some porn guy. Nothing wrong with being just a porn guy, but if you're going to do some acting, it's always nice to do it with somebody who can actually act a little bit. John could definitely do that."
"When he was directing, he was tough but he had a sense of humor, and that's okay, because it was part of him being professional: He wanted it done the way he wanted it done, but he was still enjoyable on the set," West continued. "Once in a while he'd get a little pissed off, but that's the way it goes with anything. He'd always get mad at you here or there, but as long as it wasn't personal or continuous, it was cool. He took care of his people, catered everything well, so there was no problem working for John as a director. Of course, my favorite memories are of playing golf with him.
"I was in a couple of movies he directed; not too many. We had one minor falling out because he put somebody in a part that I thought I should have had—I guess that was the late '80s, and I didn't work for him after that, I don't think—maybe one more time in the early '90s. But later on, we got along fine. We'd hang out at the Evil Angel booth at the convention. John is one of the better representatives of the porn business of the last 30 years or so.
"He had a great musical talent, which probably was even better than his acting and his performing talents," West concluded. "I saw him at a club in San Francisco back in the '90s; played harmonica great, sang good; had a good band, so he was very talented there. And John got lucky: Found himself a beautiful, smart and loving wife, and now I am a little jealous of the bastard. He got lucky with her. He had a full, interesting life that, yes, was cut too short, but it was still long enough that he got in more of life than most people do, and I think most people would trade places, given the option of living to 85 and be bored, or die at 65 and have every day filled with something, and John had every day filled with something. John was a classic. There maybe were a few others that were as good, but John was at the top of the list for acting, and the girls seemed to like him."
Another former actress with fond memories of Leslie is AIM co-founder Dr. Sharon Mitchell.
"The Industry has lost another Icon in the area of Legendary Male Performers," she wrote in an email to AVN. "I first met John in 1975. I thought he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. He, along with Jamie Gillis, Wade Nichols, Herschel Savage, Eric Edwards, Paul Thomas, Jon Martin, Michael Morrison, Joey Silvera, and Freddie Lincoln, became the perverted big brothers I always wanted and never had.
"John in particular became a mentor to me in the area of acting. He was an incredible performer, able to transform himself into any character that the script called for. Yes, in those days we had scripts, and actually had to both act and have sex in character! This was not an easy job for the men in those days: no Viagra, no video, no instant playback, having to perform in character, as well as come on cue. It was a magical art, and John was able to rise to the occasion each time. He taught me how to enjoy performing in front of the camera, while eagerly expanding my sexual experience at the same time. I do believe that I had a crush on him for awhile. He was always there for me in those days. In fact, when I was in the depths of my drug addiction, John was not afraid to tell me exactly what he thought, and how painful it was for him to see me that way. In fact, it upset him so much he slapped me in the face in scorn. I had rarely come upon anyone who cared enough to do anything so honest. I loved him for that.
"I could go on and on in praise of his character, for John Leslie could not only be a character, he had character," Mitchell summed up. "John will never be dead to me; I’ll always know where to find him, with all my friends who have passed. All I have to do is press 'PLAY.' John, you will be missed."
Finally, John's widow, Kathleen Nuzzo, shared some of her thoughts on her husband's passing:
"John left us all on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, with a smile on his face and a glint in his 'spooky' eyes," she said. "I believe he was at peace and ready to go, though why just now, I don't know and yet I do know. He spoke to a friend Saturday evening, adamant that he was going to take a trip into the stars ... and so he did. My 30 years with John were beyond description—what a ride! Living with a legend is not always easy, but it was always fun! It was the best life; he was my life.
"John's incredibly positive energy, his integrity, his creativity, his joie de vivre, his passion for everything he did and everyone he loved was and will be a constant source of inspiration to myself and I hope to many other loved ones. He cared about the truth and had the courage to live his truth.
"I would like to thank Jessie for that incredibly clever interview [posted on the John Leslie Fans page on Facebook]. It was so precious, such a gift to all of us—you are a sweetheart; thank you! I would also like to thank all of John's colleagues, friends and family members who reached out, loving John so much to tell me how much they cared. I know he touched many people in all walks of life, thank you all for appreciating this unique man.
"Congratulations to the producers, writers, directors, actors and crew who created The Sopranos—you gave John his last two months of cinematic joy as he plowed through the box set. Thank you for the buzz! He also, by chance, discovered one late night on TCM the French 1934 version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, directed by Raymond Bernard, starring Harry Baur. It blew his mind! Four and a half hours of blissful story telling—check it out, before you check out, and remember, Johnny was a Jean Valjean kind of guy!
"Some very special talents influenced John's life early on: The Honeymooners, Curly Howard, Abbott and Costello, and Babe Ruth. There were many times I really thought I was Alice Kramden: 'Pow—to the moon.' John's musical heroes were Little Walter and James Brown. And oh, my God, those 2010 Giants; he loved them so much! We watched 123 games last season and cherished their victory. Go Giants!
"On our last morning together, we bumped into each other 'In The Kitchen,' and he grabbed me tightly around the waist, drew me into his embrace and said to me, 'I love you.' Thank you for the love, John.