The first time I realized just how famous Ron Jeremy had become was while reading the sports section one day. I came to the section where all the topless bars advertise. Normally the adds say, "Meet Pandora Peaks! One Week Only! 56EEE-24-34!"
But one of the clubs, a place called Legz Diamondz, had an ad announcing "Meet Ron Jeremy! In Person! Live on stage!"
Do you know HOW popular you have to be to interrupt the nude flesh parade at a strip bar to stand on stage telling jokes for a half hour? He may be the ONLY guy in the history of movies -- ANY movies, not just porn -- who could do that. Robert DeNiro could not stand onstage at a strip club without getting booed off by the rowdy frustrated crowd.
And, man, do they turn out when Ron shows up. He's not just a porn star, he's THE porn star, a phenomenon examined in an excellent new documentary called "Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy," now playing on the west coast and soon to open in the east. To give you just one example: When Ron appears at the Consumer Electronics Show, among hundreds of scantily clad porn women, he has the longest autograph line in the building. People are fanatic about the guy. They feel like they know him.
His secret, of course, is that he's the most unlikely porn star in the business. He's short, overweight, roly-poly, out of shape, and so hairy his nickname is "The Hedgehog." His saving grace is that he never loses his sense of humor -- even the steamiest scene can be interrupted by a Jeremy quip -- and he's the hope of the great unwashed. LITERALLY the great unwashed -- he usually looks like he just crawled out of a Goodwill Box, and his costars have occasionally complained about his hygiene. In some cases women won't have sex with him unless his whole body is shaved first. (We see this fairly gruesome process taking place in the movie. It takes two guys to do it.)
In other words, if Ron Jeremy can have sex with 4,000 women -- the number is hard to verify, even by Ron, but he multiplied the 1,600 movies he's made by the average number of women he beds in each -- if THIS GUY can do that, then there's hope for every schlemiel in America.
The documentary, though, is not so much raunchy as sweet and poignant. We watch Ron, in baggy shorts and frumpy T-shirt, schlepping his luggage through airports as he goes home to an empty house. We watch him skittishly waiting for the results of his mandatory monthly AIDS test (required by the industry of all performers who work in porn). We watch him become truly crestfallen when a producer takes him out of a TV segment filmed at a Nevada brothel. He comes off, ultimately, as an insecure little teddy bear who needs to be the center of attention 24/7, using porn as the easiest way to do that.
The film is peppered with interviews and clips featuring all the usual suspects -- Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, Screw publisher Al Goldstein, porn director/historian Jim Holliday, and his good friend Al "Grandpa" Lewis -- but the most telling moments are when he's alone, speaking in stream of consciousness to the camera, revealing more than he knows. The moment when he talks about the only woman he ever loved -- she ended up hating the porn business and leaving him -- is amazingly personal, like seeing Emmett Kelly without his makeup. Who would figure that the world's most famous fornicator would be a closet romantic?
Ron is extremely close to his family. He grew up middle-class Jewish in Queens, and he still goes home to see his dad, a retired physician who has a remarkably good-natured and realistic attitude about his son's profession. His sister describes their childhood together (it's peppered with Super-8 home movies that are priceless, including Ron's bar mitzvah!), Ron talks about awkwardly losing his virginity at 17, and the whole family talks about the pivotal moment in all their lives, when Ron's mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
Of course, the movie delivers on all the frat-boy aspects as well -- in fact, it shows Ron being initiated into a fraternity that also initiated Ronald Reagan -- such as the size of his equipment ("It's scary!" says a girlie fan), the movie in which he had sex with 14 women in four hours, the good-natured banter among the various porn stars who work at a big grey studio in the San Fernando Valley, women talking about Ron's special bedroom skills, and some especially funny commentary by Al Lewis, who says frankly that Ron's standup act stinks.
Even though he's a thoroughly satisfied sensualist who has the life that every 18-year-old boy would kill for, Ron freely admits that he's not satisfied, that everything he has ever done has been an attempt to be a legitimate actor. He still tries, killing himself with a workaholic schedule that has him constantly on the road, constantly hitting the Hollywood parties, constantly schmoozing anyone who could possibly give him a job or make him famous in some world other than porn. (In one fairly hysterical scene, he raps onstage with Kid Rock in Vegas.)
And, yes, even Ron -- whose sheer physical skills are well documented -- occasionally has trouble performing in a sex scene.
"People think it's easy," he says, "but it's not." He has a regimen to get ready for it. No sex two days before his scene. (One day is too recent; he won't be aroused enough. Longer than two days will make him too eager.) He does both a mental and a physical preparation in a workout room. And he refuses to take Viagra. If he ever took one, he says, he's afraid he would start to rely on it, and he would rather rely on himself. He turns 50 this year and is still one of the busiest adult sex performers.
He keeps pictures of himself with every famous person in Hollywood. He has an amazing networking notebook that is the size of a phone book. He loves premieres and paparazzi and parties and food. And he gets lonely. He thinks of being a father. And he still dreams of Tanya, the girl who got away.
You go this movie expecting to be titillated by his feats of sexual prowess, but you leave it saying, "Awwww, such a SWEET guy."
One hundred three breasts. Lots of goofy clips from the golden age of porn (1975-1983). Rap song called "Freak of the Week." Gratuitous Rodney Dangerfield. Nazi Skinhead Fu.
Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Seymore Butts, the remarkably articulate porn producer; porn star Samantha Styles, for saying "I love a big guy"; porn star Herschel Savage, for roasting Ron in one of the funniest scenes in the film; Al Lewis, for saying "That is the worst act in show business! He has no material, he has no presentation, he has no timing -- forget it!"; Scott J. Gill, the director and editor; and, of course, Ron, for calling porn "a real pure sort of acting" and breaking our hearts when he says "My goal in life is to be an actor" and "Sex is simple -- love is painful."
Four stars. Joe Bob says check it out.
"Porn Star" Web site: ronjeremy-themovie.com.
(To reach Joe Bob, go to joebobbriggs.com or email him at JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)