STUDIO CITY, Calif.—More than 100 adult industry members, supporters and friends turned out last night at the Starlight Room of the Sportsman's Lodge on Ventura Boulevard to honor one of the industry's true legends, actor/director John Leslie Nuzzo.
The event, which lasted almost two hours, featured Evil Angel general manager Christian Mann, Leslie's friend of about 20 years, as Master of Ceremonies, and was put together by Leslie's long-time friends and co-workers, actors/directors Joey Silvera and Jules Jordan, and Kevin Moore, Leslie's photographer and editor.
"We have a room full of people; quite an illustrious group gathered tonight," Mann said as the ceremonies began.
Mann called attention to the fact that Leslie's wife, Kathleen, had brought to the memorial "some really cool stuff" of Leslie's from their home in Marin County, including his black leather—a gift from Christoph Clark—his harmonica case and a montage of photos from his personal collection. Later, fellow actor Richard Pacheco added a towel emblazoned with the words "Terrible Towel"—a memory from their youth in Pittsburgh, that was apparently a fixture on some early Leslie sets.
"Some of those photos remind me how beautiful the man was when he was young and vibrant, and he was till a very beautiful man even as he got a little older and a little curmudgeony," Mann continued. "The thing that I came to learn about John was, the John I got to know wasn't really the dreamer type; he was more of a realist ... He told it like he saw it and he didn't sugar coat it, and sometimes he kept us on our toes at the office, and at the end of every conversation, even it had been heated, he always finished with something really nice, and the thing about that is, because he's the kind of guy who would only tell it like it is, when he said it, you knew he meant it...
"To a lot of us here, John was really an actor and director," Mann continued. "To some of his friends, he was also a remarkable cook. He wouldn't let us use the word 'chef' or 'gourmet,' but he was a cook; an incredible musician for those who got to see him; and to Kathleen, he was also a lover and her husband and best friend, and I'm sure that I speak for the entire room in telling Kathleen that we've lost our friend, but none of us can begin to fathom [that] it must have been a hell of a ride being married to John Leslie."
The "main course" of the memorial was a film montage created by Moore, who's currently putting the finishing touches on Leslie's final three movies, and Ken Small of Art Attack Studio. The montage consisted of photos of Leslie at work and at play, photos of his paintings, which included many European street scenes, and clips from some of his more memorable movies and jazz performances. (Leslie was a fine jazz harmonica player and singer.)
The audience was treated to short scenes from movies like Easy Alice, Love At First Bite, The Lecher, Dogwalker (which he also directed), Nothing To Hide and Nightshift Nurses, most of which also featured Joey Silvera, Leslie's frequent sidekick in those days, as well as Leslie performing his original music at the AVN Awards show more than a decade ago. In fact, the entire memorial was bookended by recordings of the artist performing with the John Leslie Blues Band on their album In The Kitchen.
At the conclusion of the montage, more than a dozen friends of Leslie's took turns speaking, or had their words read by others, including TT Boy, Silvera, AVN publisher Paul Fishbein, Jordan, John Stagliano, Richard Pacheco, Moore, and even Rocco Siffredi, who phoned in from Italy via Skype.
"I'd like to have a moment of silence for John," Silvera asked ... then less than five seconds later, interrupted by saying, "That's about as long as John gave me to get a hard-on when I worked for him."
"What a fuckin' guy," Silvera, who admitted that he's "not a public speaker," said. "That's all I can say, man: Wow! What a fuckin' guy. He loved my dogs... We had a lot of fun together."
"He's the only guy who won two directing awards the same year," Fishbein recalled.
Fishbein recalled his first meeting with Leslie, at the premier of a Cecil Howard film in New York City, where the young publisher met, at the same time, Leslie, Silvera, Jamie Gillis and Ron Jeremy.
"I was totally in awe," Fishbein recalled. "I was in business maybe six months and hadn't met anybody. They were in their own little clique, their own little world, and John went out of his way to make me feel welcome."
"John was the type of guy that, you meet him, you know him for a few years, and you really feel like you knew him for a lot longer," Jordan said. "He was just a great guy. To hear him and Joey tell stories was just amazing, and I'm going to miss him a lot."
"One of the fondest memories I have was walking on the street in Paris with Kathleen and John," Evil Angel owner John Stagliano recalled. "He's got his harmonic in his hand, and he was just so damned entertaining ... In the late '80s, we used to talk on the phone for—I couldn't get him off the phone, but I didn't want to get him off the phone. We would talk for an hour and a half just about porn."
"He loved his job, man!" Silvera shouted from the audience.
"He used to tell me about stuff I did before I did Buttman, before I did anything; he knew porn; he knew art," Stagliano continued. "I look at these clips and I'm thinking, 'These guys were really good,' and I'm privileged to have known them and have been in John's company ... He was a true artist."
Although Mann had announced that the absence of Leslie friend, actor/director Paul Thomas, would "save 17 minutes off the program," Pacheco easily used up that time recalling his early interactions with Leslie, some of which he earlier related to AVN.
"I'm in the back seat of my car in 1977, fucking my wife, watching the dirty movies on the drive-in movie screen in Pittsburgh, and there's John and Joey," the actor told AVN, and later the memorial's attendees. "A year later, I'm on the set my second movie, Legend of Lady Blue; I walk on the set and there's John and Joey, and I run up to them like a puppy. I'm so excited, I can't stand it. I want them to be my friend, I want them to like me, and I go running up, and the two of them fucking have me for lunch. They have a way, especially in their youth, they have a way of telling—everything's an inside joke and they're the only ones allowed in. So they just abused the shit out of me, and I finally realized, 'Oh, fuck, this is not cool. These are assholes. I don't want anything'—I just got out of the line of fire. So I'm thinking, if you had bet me that I would ever be friends with either one of those fucking assholes, I would have put the house against it."
But of course, the trio did become fast friends, and Pacheco recalled bonding with Leslie on the set of Anthony Spinelli's Nothing To Hide; particularly the scene where Leslie played his harmonica while Pacheco cried softly in his arms.
"It made me a star, and it made John Leslie a superstar," Pacheco said of the film.
"My great pleasure in life was to be with John on the way up," Pacheco added. "I'm a dinosaur here; I hardly know any of you except for the ones that go back to those days."
Pacheco also read statements from early adult luminaries Harry Reems and Georgina Spelvin.
"I always felt safe and very confident when I was in John's company," Reems wrote. "He was like a magnet, always making people feel good. I wish I had known him better. he always had a joke to tell, advice to give, and a legion of friends ready to help him with anything ... I loved him as a director, always making everyone comfortable on the set and he had a marvelous intellect. He was real. He will always live in my heart and keep a smile on my face."
"Every scene or situation got better when Nuzzo arrived," declared actress Georgina Spelvin in her statement. "His charm, calm assurance and charisma lifted all he touche to unexpected new heights,including me. How lucky I was to share some cinematic moments with that pussycat of a lion ... See you soon. Hey, I'm 75; I mean that."
Finally, Pacheco related a story of Leslie's interactions with Anthony Spinelli, particularly an incident where Spinelli told Leslie, then in his mid-20s, that he couldn't play a 40-year-old—until one day on the set, he passed Leslie in full makeup and failed to recognize him.
"John?" Spinelli finally asked.
"I toldja I did makeup! I toldja I did makeup!" Leslie exclaimed.
"Okay," Spinelli said. "You've got the part."
However, when Leslie later told Pacheco that he was too young to play a particular role—"You're too young! You've got a baby face. You can't play the part. You've got a baby face."—and Pacheco reminded him of his run-in with Spinelli, Leslie retorted, "Yes, but that was me!"
"I'm pissed John's dead," Moore said. "John was like a father to me. I could sit here and talk about all that John taught me—how to shoot; John taught me this—but really, John taught me about life. He's the man."
Siffredi recalled seeing Leslie at the Adult Entertainment Expo, and before that, the Consumer Electronics Show.
"I was there for three months trying to get into the business in America," Siffredi said, "and nobody really had given me the opportunity because my accent was too strong ... Two days before leaving [to return to Italy], I saw John and he said to me, 'Rocco, why you look so sad?' And I say, 'Man, because I've been here for three months; I work only four days.' And he goes to me, 'Fuck this shit. Why didn't I know? What's the problem?' 'Because they don't like my accent.' he say, 'Come on; I love your accent, and I have great part for you.' That was Catwoman ... Funny things is, two months later, I come back in U.S. and my schedule becomes so incredibly full of work, and when he saw me, he hired me for Chameleons, and he say to me, 'See? I told you that the people doesn't understand: The accent, Italian, works so much better when you have sex.'"
Later, however, during the "open mike" portion of the ceremony, director F.J. Lincoln reminded the crowd that Leslie had also taught Siffredi his first English words: "Fuck! Shit! Asshole! Bitch!"
Other industry members who told their memories of Leslie included Nina Hartley, Scott Schwartz, Sean Michaels, Tony Montana, Erik Everhard, T-Reel, Roy Karch and Kay Parker.
Hartley recalled her first vision of Leslie: On the screen at a Berkeley, Calif., movie theater which was showing Autobiography of a Flea, a book she'd read while attending Berkeley High School.
"In the middle of one of the scenes, I was struck with the realization that that's what I wanted to do," she revealed. "I had never seen a naked penis but I knew I wanted to make porn. Fast-forward eight years later; we're in Northern California, Novato, on the home ranch of Alex DeRenzy, and I was the new girl, that new Nina ... and I can't believe it's John Leslie; I saw him in a movie and here he is and 'Ohmigod!' And I'm very young, very friendly; what can I do to be helpful to get you ready? 'Stand over there. Turn around. Show me your ass.' That was an easy foreplay, and I won an award for that scene in Ballbusters."
Schwartz, who first came across Leslie while watching his dad's copy of Talk Dirty To Me, and later appeared with him in Paul Thomas' Beauty and the Beast, said that Leslie had expressed approval of Schwartz's leading role in the mainstream movie The Toy. Schwartz also read a statement from retired actress Ruby, who said, "I shot my first boy/girl movie for John, and he set the empowering tone for my whole career. He was a brilliant director who never talked to me like i was talent, was always there with a piece of great advice and was wonderful. And he showed me that there was a life outside of the industry and told me that I had a brain under all those big tits ... I will remember the impact you had on my life forever."
"I was lucky enough to get to know John Leslie on a personal level back in 1989, 1988," recalled Sean Michaels. "What a journey getting to know this man! And to this day, Kathleen, he would always say, 'Dre, I'm in town; come have a whiskey with me at the Lodge.' That was the time we discussed everything that was pertinent in life: Art or just being you, so thank you Kathleen for helping John be John. We love you and we've got your back. Peace."
"What can I say? He was amazing," assessed Erik Everhard, a frequent performer in Leslie's movies. "I've learned so much from the man over the last 10 years knowing him and working for him, and he was just a real, real pleasure to get to know. I just want to leave you with my favorite ever John Leslie quote. We were sitting around talking one day—we were talking about sex and fucking, and John goes to me, 'Kid, you can fuck tits, you can fuck ass, you can fuck pussy. You can't fuck personality so it don't fuckin' matter.'"
During his segment, Margold said he was delivering statements to Kathleen from such adult luminaries as Larry Flynt, Randy West, Tracey Adams, Seka, Serena, and Gloria Leonard, and called for all of Leslie's contemporaries in the audience from the '70s to come on stage, calling the congregation, "The Last Rendezvous," and Leslie himself "one of explicit erotic entertainment's mountain men ... John Leslie is the only man I've ever met who could charm the Venus de Milo into giving him a handjob."
The final speaker was actress Kay Parker, who read a passage from one of Leslie's favorite literary works, the preface to Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.
In addition to those mentioned above, also in attendance were (in no particular order) Ron Jeremy, Jon Martin, John Seeman, Don Fernando, Careena Collins, Dave Cummings, Peter North, Amber Lynn, Herschel Savage, Eric Edwards, Kelly Nichols, Tom Byron, Veronica Hart, Mike Horner, Jeff "Hatman" Marton, Luc Wylder, Alexandra Silk, Holly Hollywood, Rob Black, Bud Lee, Glenn Baran, Bionca Seven, Francesca Le, Mark Wood, Vince Vouyer, Mr. Pete, Claudio Meloni, Gina Rome, Jason Sullivan, Jim South, Raven Touchstone, Melissa Monet, Jack Remy, Vaniity, Kristina Rose, Johnni Darkko, Allan Gelbard, Tanya Tate, Wesley Emerson, Jack Lawrence, Jeff Coldwater, Tod Hunter, George Kaplan (who, he said, is back from his previous disability and looking for acting/scripting work) and, we're sure, others of note.
A gallery of photos of and by Leslie and others can be found here.