Hail The Conquering Hedgehog: The Many Lives of Ron Jeremy - Episode #5

Every adult film fan's favorite guilty pleasure, albeit correctly christened AVN's top porn performer of all time in 2002 (surpassing the legendary likes of Jenna Jameson, John Holmes and Ginger Lynn), the ubiquitous Ron Jeremy is a man enthusiastically derided in dismissive discussions with our carnal cinema compadres.  Yet simultaneously he's also a dearly held object of sincere aficionado affection for reasons perhaps less obvious than have thusfar been voiced in either speech or print.  Mainstream media mavens have callously cut down Ronnie's appeal to that of the non-threatening Everyman, an unkempt slob everyone in the audience could surely feel superior to, stupidly sidestepping the size of his manhood as a decisive (if far from only) distinction.  As a matter of fact, these pathetic putdowns of prodigiously peniled porn performers (Holmes being another casualty that readily springs to mind) could constitute a convincing case of sour grapes (penis envy ?) among those who merely comment from the sidelines.  In spite of his obvious intelligence and wit, Ron Jeremy has therefore been reduced to the allegedly unenviable status of stand-in for the male video voyeur, in effect a dick with ears.  High time then to dole out some downhome justice to the naysayers who have struggled to keep Ron in his presumed place...

A Master of self-promotion among many other things, Ron has steadily inveigled his way into nearly all aspects of popular culture, defusing any arising tensions of such a risk-filled crossover attempt by cracking the self-deprecating jokes before anyone else got the chance.  Smart as a whip but able to play dumb when it suits his goals, he has proven the ideal talk show guest time and again, trotting out the "character" of Ron Jeremy as a caustic loudmouth comedian that is in sharp contrast to the thoughtful and sensitive person he is in real life.  He has presented many a top-ranking band at live concerts as well as appeared in several of their more memorable videos, eventually churning out one of his own with the surprise smash rap single Freak of the Week that took up residence in the Billboard Charts for a full six months !  Schmoozing with the gods and demi-gods of rock have greatly increased his visibility but Ronnie was never just a hanger-on but rather their treasured tour guide of choice when this hormonally driven crowd cared to go "slumming" in the seedy but oh so seductive underworld of the adult industry.  He has accumulated appearances on quiz shows and the overworked gimmick that has become reality TV to such an extent that even people who have never seen a single skin flick in their lives now know full well who the hell Ron Jeremy is.

Those people are actually doing themselves a tremendous disservice by ignoring his adult achievements however, still the arena where he has shone most brightly.  Sure, "Ron Jeremy" (as in "The Icon") became something of a schtick figure in the bargain basement video age when the character superceded the actor as intrigue was reduced to a disposable ingredient and "more fuck for your buck" became the industry's most widely heard mantra.  But in olden days, he was truly a force to be reckoned with, not just as a screen stud - in which capacity he always did very well, thank you - but also quite possibly the most versatile actor the genre has ever seen.  Guys like Jamie Gillis or John Leslie could usually play one kind of character really well, psycho deviant and suave womanizer, but Ronnie ran the whole gamut all by himself. While both venerable scions of screen sex could effortlessly accomodate the breezy workload of the Cary Grant type demanded by romantic comedies of the carnal kind, think Misty Beethoven and Wicked Sensations for Gillis and Leslie respectively, they proved clearly out of their depth when forced into full-on frantic farce. I for one still shudder to think of Jamie’s faux “Confucius say” Chinese pimp character in Greg Dark’s otherwise landmark New Wave Hookers (1985). This was a field far more comfortably inhabited by the likes of Harry Reems who in turn could be fairly hit ’n miss doing straight drama, coming up short when attempting to convey the distress of a regular Joe who has just lost his fiancée to a murdering rapist in Tim McCoy’s grimy Sex Wish (1975). Ronnie on the other hand proved perfectly able to alternate the zany exhuberance that became his stock in trade, briefly earning him the senseless sobriquet of the Charlie Chaplin of porn (back in the day when every performer had to be pigeonholed as the something or other “…of porn”), with pitch-perfect gravitas all the more effective for coming out of left field.

Graduating from being merely cast as stud meat, literally as his face was never even shown, in Joe Sarno’s Tigresses and Other Man-Eaters (1979), Ron would build a body of work that should legitimately stand shoulder to shoulder with that of the more legendary swordsmen in porn peekers’ minds. Yet somehow respectability, or as much of it as this often undignified industry will allow, has forever eluded him. Over the bumpy course of some two thousand (!!!) features, admittedly quite a few entirely forgettable but for his presence, he has always managed to deliver precisely what the part called for. Even on the lowliest productions, where pretty much everything needed to be improvised on the spot, he succeeded in shaping a compelling characterization out of thin air, just for the hell of it.

The belligerent bellboy fleecing nouveau riche Randy West in Chuck Vincent’s That Lucky Stiff and the hayseed wannabe kidnapper from Larry Revene’s Sizzle (both from 1980 and incidentally including the magnificent Merle Michaels as a pivotal part of each plan) were side-splitting turns cementing the fledgling Jeremy’s reputation as the Golden Age go-to guy for comic relief. The enviable extra that he was able to maintain wood while generating gales of guffaws got him plenty of action. The Adult Film Association of America (AFAA for short), forever attempting to improve its station in the narrow minds of Middle America, exasperated at Ron’s tendency to supplement his income as an award-worthy thespian with proletarian pecker for pay assignments in the sort of meat ’n potatoes assembly line fodder they were trying to sweep under the carpet. Thankfully, Ronnie never forsake his loyalty to those who made him a household name in the first place, the silent throngs of paying porn theater patrons who would show up week after week to witness his on-screen sexploits.

Still, this did not preclude him from partaking in many of the more upmarket erotic epics of an era since enshrined for its extravagance on all fronts. Impressed by Ron’s unfussy professionalism, DoP turned director Larry Revene continued to court his collaboration, casting him in one of his rare leads in the wonderfully witty Fascination (1980) as well as sizable supporting slots on both Wanda Whips Wall Street (1981) and Raw Talent (1984). As Jeremy’s flair for farce solidified his status, the notoriously finicky filmmaker Cecil Howard took a huge leap of faith calling upon the actor’s largely untapped dramatic potential for his dead serious Scoundrels (1982), a gargantuan gamble that paid off in spades as the movie wound up winning then novice industry rag AVN’s first ever Best Film Award. Now Ronnie was ready to take top honors at either side of the emotional spectrum.

As cinema screens shrunk down to TV size in the VHS era, Ron’s girth seemed to expand almost exponentially. Having been called just about everything from gourmand to glutton and freeloader, it’s safe to say that he rarely ran into a buffet he didn’t like. A wide variety of industry and “real world” functions, which increasingly came a callin’ when in need of an outrageous soundbite to pick up their dwindling ratings, conspired to fatten him up in ways that would have done the Wicked Witch from Hansel and Gretel mighty proud. Ronnie’s ballooning bulk invested his uninterrupted carnal activities with an ever more surreal slant. Whenever he greedily chowed down on some justifiably terrified-looking starlet’s juicy privates, one might start to wonder whether he would be able to refrain from gobbling up the poor girl in her quivering entirety ! Joking aside, Jeremy’s sheer volume was now truly gearing him towards the grotesque - not to mention, a less than salutary new moniker in “the Manatee” - as exemplified by a series of small screen send-ups he ended up starring in, portraying “Alf Ramden” in Sarno’s The Horneymooners (1988), “Uncle Pester” in Herschel Savage’s The Maddams Family (1991) and emulating rotund character actor George Wendt as “Enormous Peterson” on Mad Dad Dan’s Smeers (1992).

Chalking up mainstream cred by appearing, as many adult performers were wont to do, as an extra in legit blockbusters (in his case, most notably a blink ’n miss bit on Ivan Reitman’s 1984 bonanza Ghost Busters), Jeremy’s immediate recognizability was to carve him a comfortable cinematic niche outside of porn. Major studios were still squeamish to touch talent tainted by ‘core, although this did not deter an esteemed director like John Frankenheimer (of The Manchurian Candidate and French Connection II) from casting him time and again in hardboiled thrillers like 52 Pick-Up (1986), Ronin (1998) and Reindeer Games (2000) with the nervous money men begging to bowdlerize Ronnie’s involvement to a bare minimum or, as with Ronin, entirely relegated to the cutting room floor. Calling upon him for either his undeniable thespian skills or mere marquee shock value (or more realistically a fortunate combination of both), Ron was to fare considerably better on indie projects like the pre-South Park Trey Parker’s delirious porn pastiche Orgazmo (1997). Troy Duffy’s instant cult favorite The Boondock Saints (1999), the epitome of the little movie that could, provided him with his meatiest role to date as supremely loathsome mobster Vincent Lipazzi, just the kind of oddball character Ron had always excelled at and even though only a minor cog in the grand scheme of things entirely instrumental to the film’s success.

Apart from a recurring stint on The Disney Channel’s kiddie creepshow Bone Chillers (1996), his (uncredited) identity safely ensconced within several pounds of latex as the endearing and self-explanatorily named Blisterface (successfully fooling hordes of family-friendly funders), Ron’s biggest breaks occurred in cheapjack indie horror flicks. Productionwise often but a small step up from porno, these ramshackle if occasionally heartfelt little ventures clearly benefited from having a “name” heading its cast of disposable nobodies and, for better or worse, Ron most definitely fit that bill. Some of his more memorable forays into the fear film field included his turn as “Andre the Butcher” in the Philip Cruz gorecom Dead Meat (2005), Lloyd Kaufman’s typically tongue firmly planted in cheek Poultrygeist : Night of the Chicken Dead (2006) and, perhaps best of all, gamely playing “himself” alongside an equally congenial Veronica Hart in Adam Fields’ high concept horror farce One-Eyed Monster (2008) where a fallen meteor causes his well-travelled Johnson to detach itself and go on a savage spree, raping and killing most of the female cast ! As if it wasn’t enough to have a porn star polluting the proceedings, Thomas Dekker’s Megan Fox showcase Whore (2008) had the audacity to present Ronnie as a bona fide priest. Vito Trabucco’s affectionate hommage to ‘70s slashers Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012) took things one step further still with Ron’s indelible cameo as Our Lord Jesus Christ himself !

Surely some self-righteous bible thumpers would have a field day attempting to link this cheerful bit o’blasphemy to the heart aneurysm that was to (temporarily) take down everyone’s favorite Hedgehog in the early days of 2013. Rehearsing a play in L.A. for his friend Dave Bertolino, based on the societal upheaval wrought by an unassuming little fuck flick entitled Deep Throat some four decades before, a lifetime of excess took its toll on Ron Jeremy’s long-suffering constitution. Twas a chocolate-glazed donut that hath slain the beast. Rushed to Cedars Sinai, Ronnie received a life-saving duet of twin emergency heart surgeries and he was miraculously back on track by April. At the age of 59, whereabouts many a lust cinema luminary has kicked the bucket in recent years, Ron got yet another lease on life, proving that Somebody up there (down there ? Shush, choir boy !) must really take a shine to him.

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