Ron Jeremy is simultaneously the best-known male actor in adult films and the porn star who's hardest on the eyes. At 47, he's relatively short of stature, admittedly obese and so hirsute that his nickname is the Hedgehog -- a name that neatly summarizes his erotic appeal. Yet during his 22 years of onscreen shtupping, he's appeared in what he estimates to be more than 1,700 skin flicks, including the elegantly titled Sgt. Pecker's Lonely Hearts Club Gang Bang, Madame Hiney: The Beverly Hills Butt Broker and Honeybuns 2: Grecian Formula, which most certainly isn't about hair dye. Moreover, he has achieved enough mainstream credibility to headline "Ron Jeremy's S&M Sideshow," a touring production that's sex-oriented but notably free of money shots.
"It's nothing too strong that people won't enjoy -- not a lot of nasty," Jeremy insists from his California bachelor pad. "There'll be girls dancing, mud wrestling and a banana-eating contest. Girls from the audience, and some who are booked for the show, will treat a banana like a you-know-what, and see who can take it the deepest. It's very sexy."
Also on tap is Jeremy himself, who'll be emceeing as well as offering a stand-up routine. Predictably, his prodigious penis, which measures nine and three-quarter inches when excited, is his most frequent subject; favorite, er, gags include "People say, 'How long are you?' and I tell them, 'Two inches...from the floor!'" But he also delves into what he calls "my life story," which is the subject of a documentary produced by Dan Sullivan, an executive at Imagine Entertainment (the corporate creation of Ron "Opie" Howard), that's expected to debut at next year's Sundance Film Festival.
That a heavy hitter like Sullivan would be interested in telling this tale might seem bizarre, but given the oddly American journey Jeremy's been on, it makes a perverse kind of sense. Born Ron Jeremy Hyatt in 1953 New York, he hails from a military family; his mother was a decoder for the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II-era precursor to the CIA, and his father was also in the armed services. Jeremy earned a teaching degree and worked with "retarded or disturbed children" -- something else he riffs on in his comedy act. He left the profession to become an actor, but soon discovered that occasional off-Broadway roles didn't pay the bills, and neither did stand-up gigs in the Catskills. But Mr. Happy came to the rescue: In October 1978, a nude photo of him taken by a girlfriend was published in Playgirl's "Guy Next Door" section, and shortly thereafter, he was, in his words, "approached to do porn." The first time he did the pelvic grind in front of a film crew was "scary," he insists, but when he's asked if he was able to "perform," he snickers at the absurdity of the question.
Such performances continued in a dizzying array of genitalia opuses -- some good by his standards (he's most proud of Fascination, Deep Throat II and WPINK-TV), many others so generic that he's long since forgotten every orifice in them. Early on, he began directing and producing as well as acting, which led to some serious legal trouble: During the mid-'80s he was twice arrested in California for felony pandering under an anti-prostitution statute. Jeremy faced three years in jail for each woman he'd paid to have sex in his films -- a total capable of adding up fast. But the cases against him were dropped in 1988 after the California Supreme Court threw out the conviction of one of Jeremy's peers, producer-director Harold Freeman, on the grounds that his freedom of expression had been violated.
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Since then, Jeremy has had plenty of opportunities to give his unit some air, but lately he's received other kinds of exposure. He put his expertise to use as an advisor for Boogie Nights and the Mickey Rourke-Kim Basinger food fest 9 1/2 Weeks, and has appeared in TV shows such as Nash Bridges and recent films like Detroit Rock City, about obsessive KISS fans, and The Boondock Saints, a Willem Dafoe starrer that went straight to video "because of Colorado," he says. "Everybody at all the studios was bidding for it, but after Columbine, it got yanked." Perhaps the greatest testament to the cult of personality that's arisen around him, however, was his immortalization on MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch, a Claymation series in which likenesses of famous folks kill each other in amusingly graphic fashion. The episode in question features Jeremy facing off against ex-Mötley Cre drummer Tommy Lee, another fella with a legendary shank, in a "cock fight" that finds them both dressed as roosters. In the end, Lee wins by unzipping his pants and putting out Jeremy's eye with his member. Jeremy didn't mind coming out on the short end: "It was my pleasure. Besides, Tommy knows I'm bigger than him anyway."
Jeremy hasn't left porn behind. He's under exclusive contract to Metro Global to bare his attributes to the public, and his Web site, www.ronjeremy.com, screams "See Ron in Hot Anal, Oral and Big Dick Action!!!" But because of his recent fully clothed roles and lucrative side projects like "Ron Jeremy's S&M Sideshow," he can see the day when he'll be keeping his pants on.
In the meantime, Jeremy is grateful that so many people still want to see him naked. Is his lack of physical beauty the reason for his -- pardon the pun -- longevity? "Of course," he replies. "Average guys relate. You said a mouthful there."