The male star of Deep Throat was paid little, used by porn hustlers and then dumped.
He wasn’t much of an actor—that is, he succeeded because of a physical attribute, not because of his acting chops. Yes, he did get some parts off-Broadway, but what brought him worldwide fame was his onscreen performances as a well-endowed hunk.
However, porn stars—like dancers, sports stars and pretty-boy heartthrobs — have a short shelf life. There are exceptions, of course. Ron Jeremy has exploited his fame by marketing himself as a brand, one that continues to exist long after his career as an onscreen sexhibitionist ended.
But Harry Reems rode his Deep Throat fame well beyond his plausible staying power. He went from being the envy of his fans—for his inordinately large member—to being a gray-haired second lead in an endless succession of filmed trysts. And then nothing.
The fact that he earned only $250 for his “work” on Deep Throat (which is said to have earned $600 million globally) affirms that he had been screwed, but he seemed oblivious. A writer I once met was engaged as his ghostwriter for a possible memoir. The writer tried to get Reems to focus on the fact that he had been exploited as surely as Linda Lovelace, whose unhappy life was recorded in not one but two books.
But all Reems had say was that he chose his line of work because he liked to fuck. There were no insights; there was no depth, no subtext; Harry Reems seemed to have nothing to say. The writer withdrew from the project.
And when he moved away—Utah is pretty far from the spotlight and the hot women who had been his partners—Harry Reems carried his screen name with him. Can you imagine buying real estate from a man whose body had been seen on screens—either legally or not—in nearly every country in the world?
It’s clear he enjoyed being celebrated—and applauded (but not, per se, for his acting). But it seems he stayed too long at the party. He was ultimately ignored.
It’s sad to learn that one of the most famous men in the world (at least briefly) was homeless and, for a time in LA, sleeping in dumpsters. He drank—two and a half gallons of vodka a day, it’s been reported; he contemplated suicide but said he lacked the nerve to take that step.
Perhaps more than anything, he wanted redemption. A Jewish boy from Brooklyn, he ultimately turned to the church and a 12-step program to salvage
his life. He married; presumably he was fulfilled—at least spiritually. He did find another calling. But maybe he wondered at times, over the years, what might have been.
Exhibitionist sex has a limited lifespan. When the gray hairs sprout and the wrinkles appear, the spotlight dims. You either hawk pills, give lessons or change
your life. You can’t live on memories.
I wonder how many men, back in the 70’s, actually envied this guy—the size of his penis (which was also a stand-in, in Deep Throat, for other players less generously endowed), and for all the sex he was getting and being paid for.
But he was paid pathetically little and eventually shunned. He never got to tell his true story, whatever it was; at least nobody cared to listen. His obit indicates that
he had been in failing health for years; perhaps it was a miracle that he lived to age 65.
I once saw him on the street, here in New York. I might not have recognized him . . . except that he seemed to want to be recognized. He was of medium height; his looks were unprepossessing. Clothed, there was no compelling need to look at him. Maybe that was the problem. He couldn’t even exploit his ordinariness.