Monday, February 9, 2009

Rising to the Occasion

A short while ago, a local newspaper interested in Canadian authors interviewed me about our biography. The result of that interview appeared in the Saturday February 7th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Rising to the occasion - Burlington mom cowrites porn star's biography

Mary K. Nolan The Hamilton Spectator (Feb 7, 2009)

Reference is often made to "the longest serving member" of Parliament or Congress or city council. But the late John Holmes was as deserving of the title as any politician or statesman.
The legendary porn star, who died of AIDS in its early days, at the age of 43, was famous for his munificent endowment.

Thus the title of a new biography, John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches, written, surprisingly, by a respectable, middle-aged Burlington mom who sells hearing aids for a living.

Jill Nelson concedes that Holmes is a curious subject for her first book. Not only has he been dead for 21 years, but his only claim to fame beyond his prodigious appendage was his role in a gruesome mass killing in Los Angeles at the home of a notorious drug kingpin.

Nelson's interest in Holmes's short, sad, sleazy life was stimulated by the violent 2003 movie, Wonderland, which she and her husband rented one Saturday night from their local video store.
Starring Val Kilmer as Holmes, the movie chronicled what came to be known as the Wonderland Murders, a sordid tale of drug trafficking, addiction, the gang underworld, prostitution, pornography, money laundering, bribery, double-crossing, robbery and four murders that Holmes was charged with -- and eventually acquitted of -- committing.

Nelson was so intrigued by Holmes's tragic story that she began researching his life online, where she ran into a young Michigan student on a message board. Jennifer Sugar was only 21 but determined to write the definitive biography of Holmes, and she invited Nelson to be her collaborator.

"We wanted to write a fair and unbiased biography -- the good, the bad and the ugly." Nelson's 24-year-old son thought it was a bit of a kick, but her daughter, 19, was not entirely impressed. "She said 'Out of everything you could write about, why does it have to be a porn star?'" says Nelson. Her husband of 30 years worried about possible negative repercussions. "He cautioned me that I wasn't writing a book about birds," she laughs.

Between them, Nelson and Sugar interviewed 35 people, including Holmes's second wife, Laurie. They also watched as many of Holmes's films as they could find -- about 114 full-length movies and another 86 "loops," silent shorts that are light on plot and long on hard-core action. None would have merited any awards, not for the acting, at any rate.

"We wanted to get beyond the stigma," says Nelson. "We discovered that there was a real soft side to him, pardon the pun. We believe he was a good guy in the beginning, a big-hearted guy, but when he got into coke, all his demons came out."

Holmes, they discovered, was not just a sex addict, drug addict and accused murderer who endured a miserable childhood, ran with a bad crowd and had unprotected sex with his costars even after learning he had AIDS.

He was also a kind and charismatic man, a loving stepfather who loved gardening, building, poetry, woodworking, antiques and storytelling, says Nelson. His first marriage lasted 19 years, his second was in its fifth when he died.

"He'll always remain an enigma because that's the way he wanted it," says Nelson. "I do like him, despite some of the heinous things he did. If I'd ever met him, I'd probably have been sucked in by his charisma."

1 comment:

Jennifer Sugar said...

That's a really good, thorough piece! Good job!