Requiem for a Heavy Wadd – August, 1988 Article
To read a big section of the lengthy 1983 Hustler interview with Holmes that I found, go here. It’s on my blog.
This 1988 article is long, no pun intended. Caution: Profanity below!! I did not alter the photo, someone else did I guess. You will notice a few of the usual inconsistencies with the facts of his life and of other stuff, albeit with what we know about John today…but it’s an entertaining piece nonetheless. Hell, it’s over 25 years old. As the Big Lebowski once said “new shit has come to light!”. Hopefully Jill can drop a few lines in the comments about this gem!
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Requiem for a Heavy Wadd
Courtesy of Hustler Magazine – Anthony R. Lovett – August 1988
John C. Holmes’s journey from scum sack to body bag.
The 80’s were not kind to John C Holmes. In the last eight years of his life, the world’s most famous porn star was heavily addicted to cocaine, involved in some decidedly gory killings, charged with murder, held in contempt of the Los Angeles grand jury, caught stealing from his friends, and slowly abandoned by anyone who ever meant anything to him. Add to this sorry list a bad case of hemorrhoids, intestinal cancer, and finally, a lingering death due to AIDS, and you have the makings of what appears to be a cruel joke of titanic proportions played on one man, a godless job for the ‘80s. In the five months before his death on March 13, 1988, the bitter, painful and friendless agony of John Holmes slowly unwound in Room 101A of the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Sepulveda, California.
Scarcely recognizable in his last weeks, Holmes dwindled to an 85-lb. Skeleton, a semi-coherent wraith who every day slipped further into the shadows. Here was an ordinary joe whose extraordinary large penis had elevated him above the teeming throng and led him down the strange and tortuous path that dead-ends at the VA hospital. Had he been born without the freakish appendage he carried between his legs, John Holmes probably would have never made a porn flick, or had sex with 14,000 women, or smoked a fortune’s worth of cocaine, or died friendless at the ripe young age of 43. His great big dick, the one secretly envied by all men who saw it, fantasized about by all women who dared, was in reality his worst enemy. Once that magnificent organ was revealed to the world, once it was presented to bear the sexual brunt of a size-obsessed society, it became more important than the man who owned it. John Holmes’s cock dwarfed everything around it, including its owner. Holmes spoke of the way his abnormality mesmerized all who gazed upon it, never realizing that he too had come under its spell. The “real” John Holmes, the bumpkin from the Midwest, was soon phased out to make room for the world’s greatest porn star. Holmes spent his leave weaving a complex, contradictory web of lies to cover his tracks. His origins, his home, his very pre-porn life were unbefitting to a stud the likes of “Johnny Wadd.” So over the years, in interview after interview, Holmes perpetuated and embellished a fictional past that he presented as his own. Each journalistic encounter was rife with fallacy, wielding anything and everything but “the truth.” Subsequently, well-meaning news sources tapped into the same litany of lies again and again. They still do.
Holmes’s true origins are indeed mundane compared to the fairy tale childhood he created for the record. One of John Holmes’s favorite lies concerned a wealthy aunt who, according to Holmes, raised him in a servant laden Florida mansion. It was there, John claimed, that at the age of eight he first encountered fellatio via his aunt’s Swiss maid – not a French maid, but a Swiss maid. John was at least blessed with imagination. Little is known about John’s early years but one thing is certain – he wasn’t raised by a rich aunt in Florida: he didn’t have one. (He would end up there some 35 years later, running away from his LA murder rap.) Publisher Al Goldstein claims to have a copy of Holmes’s birth certificate, and porn celeb William Margold backs it up. “He showed it to me – it was real,” chimes Margold. The piece of paper originally identified the child as John Curtis Estes, born August 8, 1944, in Pickaway County, Ohio. Two years later the name was altered to John Curtis Holmes, and the name of the father, Carl L. Estes, was not to be found on the correction. Holmes often told interviewers that the C in his name stood not for Curtis (which it did) or Cocaine (which it was rumored to be), but for Cash. According to Holmes, his first gig was paid with a check – that bounced. From then on he demanded cash – and took it as a middle name. Holmes never missed an opportunity to embroider his tapestry of bullshit. While the specifics of Holmes’s roots are tenuous, it appears that he sprang from all-American poor white-trash origins in Ashville or Pataskala, Ohio depending on whom you talk to.
Holmes, a quiet, nerdy kid who was basically ignored throughout his youth, maintained a perfect Sunday-school attendance record for 12 years. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that John’s first blowjob came from a Swiss maid – or any maid, for that matter – and hardly at the age of eight. In fact, it’s doubtful that Holmes ever got laid before he left home. Yet he claimed, in a 1973 Screw interview, to have slept with “everybody but three girls in my class, and then the class before, quite a few of ‘em; and then the senior class ahead of me, I got most of them.” Two questions arise: How did he ever find time to study? Why can’t his classmates remember the guy at all, especially the myriad of women he allegedly bedded? Perhaps all of the boys at Pickaway High had 14-inch trouser snakes (another lie about Holmes – he measured 12 ¾ inches, not the 14 usually hyped). Holmes left home before his high school graduation to join the Army. He served his country from 1961 to 1963, spending some of that time in West Germany. In the mid-60’s he came to Southern California and, according to Holmes, worked as everything from an ambulance driver to an author of children’s books (titles such as The Little Wee Wee That Could and Goldilicks and the Threeway Bears spring to mind) before discovering that his true calling hinged on the unusual size of his penis.
Holmes often said he made $100 for his first loop, having been introduced to the filmmakers by a sexually liberated female neighbor he met while attending UCLA (another lie – he never graduated from high school). Yet, according to Margold, Holmes found the business in a different manner back in 1969. “He simply knew somebody who knew somebody who said they were doing something down on Las Palmas was essentially the center of the X-rated industry. So Holmes stumbled into it, his appendage spoke for him, and they put him to work. Rumor is, he was earning $25 a day for as much as he could knock out.” Margold, who last year established a John Holmes relief fund that received absolutely no contributions, remembers the first time he worked with “The King”: “All of a sudden I looked up, and his dick came out over my head, literally hanging out over my head, and it was like the opening shot of Star Wars. I was so intimidated with what I was looking at that my dick went down in the rug, and I did not see it the rest of the day.”
The Las Palmas days were fleeting, however, as pornography blossomed alongside the sexual revolution and moved from the cellar to the studio. In the early to mid-70s porn became fashionable – porno chic it was called. X-rated filmmakers strived to imitate their Hollywood brethren first in lifestyle, then in film-style. As adult theaters flourished across the land like fungus, so did their audiences. But an essential Hollywood element, a core ingredient, was missing from the new porn: the “star system.” Enter John Holmes, in the right place at the right time with the right dick. While the unbearably goofy Johnny Wadd detective series (1976 to 1977) propelled Holmes into the spotlight of notoriety, his earlier appearances in a plethora of Swedish Erotica loops had already saturated the American underground media. Swedish Erotica understood the importance of a star system better than anyone in the porn biz and, like a small-time MGM, nurtured unknowns such as John Holmes and Seka into full-fledged media superstars whose names and faces would become as recognizable as those of any TV or movie celebrity.
Around 1972 John shot a number of loops in Europe for the Color Climax series, which eventually ended up in peep booths across the United States. As early as 1973, John Holmes had returned and was performing mostly in Swedish Erotic loops, many shot at camera/director Ted Gorley’s Hollywood apartment – edited with nothing more than a ruler, some scissors and tape. Crude beginnings for a naïve, soft-spoken hick from Hooterville who would come to sexually symbolize the quantity-not-quality aesthetics that typify America. Holmes was both the bane and the balm for any man who ever doubted his own virility. Those early producers knew that John C. Holmes had something more valuable than gold. It was as if he had dropped from the heavens, the perfect sexual “product” for a society of size-queens. While John Holmes went on to become a superstar, he never became rich like those whose bank accounts were engorged with the fruits of his labors. To the public, however, it seemed as if John lived a lavish, indolent life centered around his personal pleasure, a life that many would have traded their souls for.
Until July 1, 1981. The police called them the “Four on the Floor” murders. That’s how the murder scene looked that first July 1981 morning at 8763 Wonderland Drive, just a hoot and a holler across the Hollywood Hills from Sharon Tate’s old place. Inside, four savagely bludgeoned bodies were strewn about like rag dolls; a fifth individual, the lone survivor, was maimed beyond recognition. Holmes was picked up and questioned; the victims had been “friends” of his, a cadre of coke dealers. Upon Holmes’s release, he disappeared until November 30, 1981, when he was arrested while working as a handyman at a Florida hotel. When Holmes was returned to Los Angeles, he learned some startling news – he was being charged with murder. A palm print on the wall above one of the bodies was one of his own. During Holmes’s murder trial, the prosecution contended that the killings had been in retaliation for an armed robbery at the home of Eddie Nash, also knows as Adel Nasrallah, a Lebanese drug dealer, club owner and stolen-goods fence on whom Holmes often depended for cocaine. Nash and his large black bodyguard, Gregory Diles, were held a gunpoint as the house was ransacked, then forced to their knees, whereupon they begged for their lives.
The prosecution argued that Holmes first set up Nash, agreeing to split the proceeds with the perpetrators from Wonderland. Later Holmes was coerced into a confession by Nash, according to the prosecution, and forced to lead the Semite’s men to Wonderland for their retribution. The DA contended that John joined in on one of the murders, willingly or unwillingly. Holmes squirmed out of the murder charge only to be held in contempt of the Los Angeles grand jury when he still refused to ID the club-wielders. He feared for his life, he said, and for the lives of his family and friends. The bludgeonings, which police really believed were Nash’s doing, were some of the most brutal on L.A.’s murder books. No wonder Holmes wouldn’t speak to the grand jury. Holmes was held for 110 days.
Two things persuaded him to open up:
1) Eddie Nash was going to prison for eight years on a cocaine charge.
2) The district attorney’s office agreed not to prosecute Holmes for perjury for anything he might say, a roundabout way of giving Holmes the green light to lie. The waiting, the intimidation, the hardball tactics, the strong-arm, were all for naught.
To this day, Holmes’s testimony remains secret.
In February of 1988, the police got wind of Holmes’s failing condition and swooped on him in hopes of a deathbed confession concerning the Wonderland murders. According to a source close to Holmes, the porn actor either refused to speak with the police, or was unable to answer their questions due to his worsened condition. However, in an as-yet-to-be-published biography by a man the Hollywood Report identified as Freddy Basten, Holmes allegedly claimed that while the killings were taking place, he was being held a t gunpoint at a separate location. Holmes said he was later released and returned to the house to find the bodies.
A month after Holmes croaked, the murky facts surrounding the murders were further clouded by Sharon Holmes, who divorced the Wadd in 1984 following 16 years of marriage. According to Sharon, Holmes confessed his involvement to her three weeks after the killings, saying he’d been held at gunpoint and forced to watch as the Wonderland residents were hacked to pieces. A common thread of all accounts is that the stupidity and drug-greed of John C. Holmes triggered a chain of events resulting in the vicious slaying of four people.
If John’s dick was his downfall, then cocaine was its accomplice. John’s hankering for coke knew no bounds. In the beginning, he snorted it “just a little,” as he used to say; later he whiffed it until his nose bled. Once he crossed over to free-basing, it proved extremely taxing on both finances and health. Many, including John’s second wife, Laurie, insist John never used needles. Others, like Margold – whose media appearances after Holmes’ death only served to reinforce the public’s negative view of the industry – claim John was shooting speedballs, a mixture of heroin and coke favored by John Belushi. Others note there were times John would have tried anything.
In a HUSTLER interview following the Wonderland murder trial, John discussed his cocaine problem in what seemed to be an honest manner: “In less than two years I smoked away a couple of apartment buildings I owned, my house, my antique store, my hardware store [all of which, according to porn historian Jim Holliday, were fabrications of John’s imagination] and my career. Not only had I smoked away more than three-quarters of a million dollars, I had degenerated into a gofer – running around selling drugs to some people so sleazy, I would have crossed the street to avoid them in the past.” Was he referring to Eddie Nash or the dead people at Wonderland? Also in the interview, Holmes claims to have begun doing coke in 1979, “after turning it down two or three times a day for ten years.” According to Holmes, the coke was being offered by someone with whom he was producing five films. Yet, according to historian Holliday, Holmes wasn’t producing five films with anyone back then, period. To confuse matters just a bit more, Kitten Natividad, who worked with John on and off the screen, maintains that Holmes was tooting up ten or 12 years ago, which would predate Holmes’s 1979 date by at least a year. Once Holmes tried coke, he liked it. He allegedly began purchasing blow from a member of Los Angeles’ Gay Mafia, the so-called Lavender Hill Mob. This harmonious union lasted as long as the connection could supply the drug.
One night, when “the man” couldn’t come through, Holmes was turned on to another dealer, Eddie Nash. Nash, who Holmes once described as “a skinny Arab,” was allegedly the model for the coke Mephistopheles in the preachy drug epic Torchlight. Nash liked porn and, predictably, was a fan of Holmes. Nash kept Holmes around as a kind of mascot, feeding him to the tune of $10,000 in cocaine. Misery loves company, and soon Nash had it – in the form of the world’s greatest porn star. With a friend like Nash, it wasn’t hard for Holmes to become an addict. Coke became his constant companion. Many recall John’s ubiquitous black briefcase, the one that always had a few candy bars, a bottle of scotch and plenty of cocaine in it.
Holmes used the drug to give himself the energy he needed to crank out films and photos, including the six or so Swedish Erotica loops produced every month. He also needed the drug to maintain the decaying façade of Johnny Wadd; yet it only contributed to its inevitable destruction. More than one porn director recalls searching the set for Holmes, only to find him crouched in some closet, his nose and upper lip white with powder. Eventually Holmes dropped out of porn to pursue cocaine addiction full time. He began to steal from his friends. Porn has never been more of a microcosm of Hollywood than in the case of coke abuse. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s coke was the midnight oil of the business, fuel for performers and filmmakers who believed they could quit the white powder at any time – or keep doing it forever.
According to an inside source, cocaine was prevalent on the Swedish Erotica sets, both in front of and behind the camera. This was especially true after Paul Vatelli arrived on the scene in 1979 and began directing the Swedish series as well as features for Caballero Video. “His crew dealt in cocaine all the time,” says the source, “so he could get the best. He could get pharmaceutical.” A hardcore coke abuser who was allegedly introduced to the stuff by a Hollywood record exec, Vatelli was a far cry from nonuser Ted Gorley – and, like Holmes, eventually died of AIDS. Unlike Holmes, Vatelli’s death in 1985 came swiftly, seven days after he was checked into the hospital with collapsed, freebase-fried lungs. Vatelli was not prepared to hear that he had AIDS. He died wearing a straitjacket. Holmes and Vatelli worked together in 1980. Vatelli, while projecting himself to the outside world as a macho womanizer, was in reality an omnisexual masochist whose self-humiliation would have made the Marquis de Sade blush.
In effect, he was driven to try it all; including it seemed to some, the most famous dick in the world. While Holmes apparently enjoyed sex with women, he didn’t particularly like the fair sex outside the bedroom/klieg-light arena. According to Margold, Holmes was “actively bi.” Asked whether he was bi or gay, Holmes told Holliday, “I consider myself sexual.” And since his true love could be bought by the gram, John was said to have accepted homosexual tricks if the price was right, i.e., could he afford a great deal of coke from the transaction? Yet if Holmes did contract AIDS from a homosexual anal encounter, it would far more likely that he did so from a tryst with another who died of AIDS a year before Vatelli, in 1984. There’s no doubting that John Holmes had anal sex with Joseph Yale – the event is recorded on film. The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes, the only gay hard-core feature to John’s credit, was released in 1983, after his secret testimony to the Los Angeles grand jury bought John his freedom. In the film, Holmes performs in a “harem scene” with then-famous gay-porn actor/filmmaker/producer Joseph Yale, with Joe receiving. (Holmes’s widow, Laurie has claimed that the high-profile Yale was actually a woman. Holmes claimed that he required a naked woman to pose just off-camera so the he could maintain his erection. Truth or homophobic excuses?)
About a year later, Joe Yale died of complications arising from AIDS. Yale was extremely promiscuous, perhaps he gave the disease to Holmes… or could it have been the other way around, with Holmes’s disease remaining dormant and undetectable, longer? Some believe Holmes may have gotten the disease in prison. One former lover recalled Holmes’s fear of such a situation. “John was saying, ‘God, I hope I never go to jail – I can’t imagine butt-fucking a guy or getting butt-fucked.” Perhaps he didn’t have to use his imagination for very long. It seems doubtful, however, that Holmes ever had the opportunity for such fun.
He was held in a single cell during the contempt proceedings, one far enough away from the rest of the jail population so that John could rest easy. Others close to Holmes, including his ex-business partner and friend Bill Amerson, believe that the superstar acquired AIDS in a different fashion. Amerson, whose contact with the press has been very limited, originally verified the AIDS rumor months before the death certificate was filed. The official cause of death was encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, brought on by AIDS. According to Amerson, and others such as Holliday and hired dick John Leslie, Holmes was a soft-spoken man off-screen who enjoyed fishing, hunting and gardening. Writer Jeremy Stone visited Holmes once and was shown grapes John had grown in the backyard. He seemed more proud of them than of any porn film he’d every made. Yet, claims Amerson, this “soft-spoken man” – who would seem to have had enough cheesy fucks in his professional life – was sexually obsessed with the lowest form of street hooker. Holmes would cruise the low-rent sex strips on Sunset and Hollywood, seek out the industrial whores near Fifth and San Pedro. His coprophilic obsession hinged on the “filthiness” of sex, and he practiced it frequently over a period of years. Although the odds of AIDS transmission from a woman to a man are proportionately small, these types of prostitutes have been pinpointed as high-risk transmitters of the disease. Just as no one knows the “real” John Holmes, no one will ever know specifically how he got the disease.
The smoking gun was John Holmes’s reckless and self-destructive way of life. As far as AIDS was concerned, John was playing Russian roulette. The adult video industry is populated by polysexual performers whose dubious lifestyles translate into high-risk figures for sexually transmitted diseases. Many of porn’s current stable of studs have done time in gay films. Some are gay off-camera, performing “straight” sex only for the dollars. Peter North, Craig Roberts, R.J. Reynolds, Greg Rome, Marc Wallice, Randy Paul and numerous others got their start servicing and being serviced by dudes, only to move on to straight films – where the money is. Yet so far AIDS is not rampant in the porn industry, despite such a claim made by Holmes’s widow, Laurie, in the Los Angeles Times. After all, Holmes long ago practiced the safe-sex technique of pulling out and shooting on partners’ faces, asses and bellies.
Laurie and John met in 1983, when she was calling herself Misty Dawn, a porn actress who had specialized in anal sex – for which John had a known penchant. It was love at first insertion. They performed just such a scene together in Caballero’s Nasty Nurses. Considering her specialty as a performer, Misty/Laurie is certainly not in a low-risk AIDS group herself. Predictably, in the wake of her husband’s death, Laurie has joined the reactionary Woman Against Pornography. At Holmes’s request, Laurie quit the onscreen porn business in 1983 to become his live-in “girlfriend” as well as his secretary at Penguin Productions, a company he and Amerson were operating.
Laurie became Holmes’s wife in Las Vegas on January 23, 1987, six months after she learned he had become exposed to AIDS. That indicates Holmes knew about his disease by July 1986 at the very latest. There’s no telling how long Holmes carried it around, though a test the previous year had proved negative. According to Laurie, before John knew he had AIDS, he was planning on doing just a few more films, taking the money (which probably would have been no more than $4,000) and disappearing with her. This turned out to be just another one of Holmes’s unachievable fantasies.
In reality, he was hooked on coke again. Holmes supported his renewed habit with some $200,000 he embezzled from Amerson and Penguin Productions. Amerson had been Holmes’s confidant, friend and manager for 25 years, and had come to the star’s aid many a time. Before the Wonderland murders, Amerson bailed out Holmes when the Wadd was arrested for stealing $10,000 worth of computer equipment. After Holmes was released in 1983, Amerson took the X-rated outcast under his wing and made him a partner in Penguin Productions, which Amerson also bankrolled. Holmes had gotten “clean” in prison and was struggling to stay drug-free on the outside. Business went fine for a while, and Holmes made a few “comeback” films, such as Girls on Fire, The Return of Johnny Wadd and Rocky X. Then coke made a comeback of its own. Even more insidious, Holmes may have added new meaning to the title of his “last” feature, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empress (1987), by appearing in the film after he knew about his AIDS affliction. The feature was shot at the same time as the Holmes postmortem companion piece, The Devil in Mr. Holmes, and co-stars Italian parliament member Cicciolina.
According to Laurie Holmes, “John was diagnosed as having AIDS in 1986…before he traveled to Europe to appear in two porn movies there. Holmes reportedly confided, “Cicciolina fucked Italy; now I’m gonna fuck her.” An unidentified actress who appeared with Holmes in an anal scene in one of these two films is rumored to now be dying of AIDS, which should be no comfort to Amber Lynn or Tracey Adams, both of who were dicked by Holmes in these sessions. Whether for the money, vengeance, or out of ignorance, John Holmes consciously engaged in sex after he knew of his fatal affliction, tantamount to murder.
By October of 1986 Holmes was in failing health and, according to Amerson in the Los Angeles Times, underwent surgery for the removal of a malignant tumor in his lower intestine. Others close to Holmes, however, revealed that the problem was an extreme case of hemorrhoids, necessitating the surgical removal. John, never one to accept an unglamorous situation, had transmogrified his ugly butt warts into colon cancer. It’s unclear as to whether or not Holmes ever had intestinal surgery or what kind it may have been.
Some sources recalled Holmes with a colostomy bag, while others mention an ileostomy (an operation to create an artificial anus). In what is perhaps Holmes’s last interview, conducted in June 1987 for Erotica magazine in Finland, Holmes told Sasha Gabor, the porn actor and Burt Reynolds facsimile, “I have no guts left; the doctors cut out four feet.” No matter what story Holmes concocted, he was in bad shape and fading fast. Despite the coke and the bullshit and the murders, Holmes’s co-workers remember him as something of an enigma, a man who was affable and generous, who presented a well-rehearsed personality, but who kept the real John Holmes, if there was such a person, to himself.
Jamie Gillis, an X-rated veteran who’s been around since day one, worked with Holmes a “handful of times” over the course of 15 years. Gillis remembers Holmes as “sort of there, but ready to leave the set as soon as things were finished. He wanted to get out of there and go wherever the world of John Holmes was. It wasn’t like John Leslie and Joey Silvera, where we hung around or picked up girls or had dinners. I don’t know anybody who was that close to John. He was an outsider.” Holmes made his living as a lover of sorts, and so it is perhaps no coincidence that he is most fondly remembered by his female lovers and co-stars – despite the seemingly brutish size of his penis. Gillis claims he never met a girl who had performed with Holmes who had anything bad to say about him. He held a reputation for being gentle, patient and sensitive, an expert cunnilinguist. Seka once proclaimed that Holmes dispensed “the cum of God.”
World-famous stripper and actress Kitten Natividad’s relationship with Holmes took place for the most part off-screen. “We were doing a photo-shoot back in the late ‘70s with Candy Samples and Uschi Digard and a black girl, and when I met him, I found him very charming. I was sexually attracted to him. On our breaks we’d fuck off-camera, and on-camera we’d do the simulation.” As a lover, Kitten considers Holmes “okay.” “I wasn’t in love with him; so I didn’t feel the passion, but it was as good as fucks go.” Kitten too remembers Holmes’s black briefcase and the scotch and coke within. “I don’t think he was doing a lot,” she says. “He would say, “Just a little bit, just a little bit.”
Even with his impending doom, Johnny Wadd was intent on keeping his legend alive. As with his life, Holmes choose to cloak his mortality in a lie. As far as the world was concerned, Johnny Wadd was dying of cancer, not AIDS, and he carried on as if his passing would somehow escape the scrutiny bestowed upon those like Liberace. At the close of his June ’87 interview with Holmes, Gabor brandished a camera to get a parting shot of the King. Holmes was vehement: “Absolutely no! I do not want the world to remember Johnny Wadd looking like Rock Hudson.
I am dying from cancer of the colon, not AIDS!” he bellowed. “Make sure everybody understands that! The rumors and the people spreading them are malicious!” Even on his deathbed, Holmes maintained the front line of deception. On Monday, March 14, 1988, the day after Holmes died, sales and rentals of his videotapes surged to a peak that hadn’t been seen since the days of his murder trial. Whatever the truth may be about Holmes, he took it to his grave. Yet, as long as the human penis averages about six inches in length, the memory of John C. Holmes will remain well protected and highly profitable. Holmes, the man, had really been dead for years. Holmes, the product is immortal.
Courtesy of Hustler Magazine – Anthony R. Lovett – August 1988