John Holmes (actor)

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John C. Holmes
John Holmes pornographic actor.jpg
Holmes as Joe Murray in Prisoner of Paradise (1980)
Born John Curtis Estes
(1944-08-08)August 8, 1944
Ashville, Ohio
Died March 13, 1988(1988-03-13) (aged 43)
Los Angeles, California
Other names John Duval, John Estes, Big John Fallus, Big John Holmes, John C. Holmes, John Curtis Holmes, Johnny Holmes, Bigg John, Big John, John Rey, Johnny Wadd, John Sacre, Bernard Emil Weik II, Long John Wadd, Johnny B. Wadd, Johnny the Wad, John C. Wadd
Occupation pornographic film actor
Years active 1967–1988
Height 6 ft 3 in (191 cm)
Weight 145 lb (66 kg)
No. of adult films 2,500

John Curtis Holmes (August 8, 1944 – March 13, 1988), better known as John C. Holmes or Johnny Wadd (after the lead character he portrayed in a series of related films), was one of the most prolific male pornographic film actors of all time; he appeared in about 2,500 adult loops and pornographic feature movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Holmes was best known for his exceptionally large penis, which was heavily promoted as the longest, thickest, and hardest in the porn industry, although no documented measurement of Holmes' actual penis length, girth, or tumescence has ever been confirmed.[1]

Near the end of his life, Holmes attained notoriety for his involvement in the Wonderland murders of July 1981 and eventually for his death from complications caused by AIDS in March 1988.

Holmes was the subject of several books, a lengthy essay in Rolling Stone, and two feature-length documentaries, and was the inspiration for two Hollywood movies (Boogie Nights and Wonderland).

Early life[edit]

Holmes was born John Curtis Estes on August 8, 1944, in the small rural town of Ashville, Ohio, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Columbus. John was the youngest of four children born to 26-year-old Mary June Holmes (née Barton); his father's name was not listed on his birth certificate. Mary and her husband, Edward Holmes, the father of John's three older siblings, Dale, Edward, and Anne, were married and divorced three times throughout their lives, documented by wedding certificates dated 13 April 1936, 13 August 1945, and 12 September 1947.[2] At the time of their first marriage, in 1936, Edgar was 35 years old and already a one-time divorcé; Mary was 17.[3] After divorcing each other a third and final time, Edgar and Mary each married one more time.[4]

Mary changed John's surname to Holmes when he was a child. In 1986, when prior to a trip to Italy his mother provided him with the handwritten copy of his original birth certificate, Holmes learned the name of his biological father, Carl Estes.

Holmes' mother, Mary, was a devout Southern Baptist and with her children regularly attended the Milport Chapel Church; John had perfect attendance. In contrast his stepfather, Edward, was an alcoholic who would come home inebriated, stumble about the house, and even vomit on the children. As a child, Holmes enjoyed a reprieve from his turbulent home life when he visited his maternal grandparents.

Mary divorced Edward when Holmes was three or four and moved with her children to Columbus, Ohio, where they lived in a low-income apartment project with a friend of Mary's and her two children. The two women worked as clerks and waitresses in order to support their young children.

When Holmes was eight, his mother married Harold Bowman on December 31, 1951. Shortly afterward, Holmes and his family moved from Columbus and settled in the small town of Pataskala, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Columbus. Holmes recalled that Bowman was a good father until Holmes' younger half-brother, David, was born, at which point Bowman lost interest in his stepchildren and began neglecting them.[5][6]

Holmes left home at age 16 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, with his mother's written permission. He spent most of the three years of his military service in West Germany in the Signal Corps.[6] Upon his honorable discharge, Holmes moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in a variety of jobs, including selling goods door-to-door and tending the vats at a Coffee-Nips factory. During his stint as an ambulance driver he met a nurse named Sharon Gebenini, in December 1964. They married in August 1965.[7]

Holmes found work as a forklift driver at a meatpacking warehouse in nearby Cudahy, California. However, repeated exposure to the sub-freezing air in the large walk-in freezer after being outside inhaling the desert-hot air caused him severe health problems, leading to a pneumothorax of his right lung, on three separate occasions, during the two years he worked there.[7]

Sharon had health problems, too. During the first 17 months of her marriage to John, she miscarried three times.[citation needed]



"John Holmes was to the adult film industry what Elvis Presley was to rock 'n' roll. He simply was The King."

— Cinematographer Bob Vosse in the documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes.

Determining the number of films Holmes made during the early part of his career is difficult, because the ad copy rarely named him. Copy that did usually used entirely inconsistent names. For example, one early "Swedish Erotica" brochure from 1973 has five loops featuring Holmes, each citing a different name.[citation needed]

In the early years of his porn career, one of Holmes' nicknames was "The Sultan of Smut", a play on Babe Ruth's nickname, "The Sultan of Swat".[citation needed]

In 1971, Holmes' career began to take off with a porn series built around a private investigator named Johnny Wadd, written and directed by Bob Chinn. The success of the film Johnny Wadd created an immediate demand for more Johnny Wadd films, so Chinn followed up the same year with Flesh of the Lotus. Most of the subsequent Johnny Wadd films were written and directed by Chinn and produced by the L.A. based company Freeway Films.

With the success of Deep Throat (1972), Behind the Green Door (1972), and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), porn became chic, although its legality was still hotly contested. Holmes was arrested during this time for pimping and pandering, but he avoided prison time by becoming an informant for the LAPD.[8] Using his status as an informer, it is alleged Holmes systematically had his competition in the porn industry arrested, although there is no substantiated evidence to support the claim that anyone in the adult industry was arrested as a result of Holmes' efforts.[citation needed]

By 1978, Holmes was reputed to be earning as much as $3,000 per day as a porn performer.[5][8] Around this time (the late 1970s), his consumption of cocaine and freebasing were becoming a serious problem. Professionally, it affected his ability to maintain an erection, as is apparent from his flaccid performance in Insatiable (1980). To support himself and his drug habit, Holmes ventured into crime, selling drugs for gangs, prostituting himself to both men and women, and committing credit card fraud and petty theft.

In 1976, he met 15-year-old Dawn Schiller, who became his girlfriend. After Holmes became desperate, he prostituted her and beat her, the latter at least once in public.[9][10][11]

Number and gender of partners[edit]

In the 1981 feature documentary, Exhausted, John C. Holmes, The Real Story made about his life and career by director and confidante, Julia St. Vincent, Holmes claimed during an interview segment that he'd had intercourse with 14,000 women.[8] The number had in fact been invented by Holmes to help salvage his waning image.[5] (Holmes later joked to psychologist Dr. Vonda L. Pelto, who had counselled Holmes in 1982 and other notorious inmates during her employment at L.A. County jail, that he was exaggerating the number—which was actually 13,895.) Pornography historian Luke Ford calculated the number of Holmes' sexual partners over the course of his lifetime to be a relatively modest 3,000, or 2.7 new women per week.[citation needed]

The true number of women (and men) with whom Holmes had sex during his career will never be known. After his death, his ex-wife Sharon came across a foot locker plated in 24k gold leaf, which contained photographic references to Holmes' "private work". She burned all of it.[12]

His performances included at least one homosexual feature film, The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes,[13] and a handful of gay loops.

Drugs and the Wonderland murders[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Wonderland murders.

In late 1980, a mutual friend introduced Holmes to Chris Coxx, who owned the Odyssey nightclub. Coxx, in turn, introduced Holmes to Eddie Nash, a drug dealer who owned multiple nightclubs,[14] including Starwood. At the same time, Holmes was closely associated with the Wonderland Gang, a group of heroin-addicted cocaine dealers, so called for the location of their hangout: a rowhouse located on Wonderland Avenue in the wooded Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. Holmes frequently sold drugs for the gang.

After stealing money during a couple of drug runs[citation needed] as well as using more than his share of the gang's drugs,[15] Holmes was in trouble with the gang. In June 1981, allegedly in exchange for his life,[citation needed] he told the gang's leaders (Lind and Ron Launius) about a large stash of drugs, money, and jewelry Nash had in his house. Holmes helped to set up a robbery that was committed on the morning of June 29, 1981: a scenario that was represented in the films Boogie Nights and Wonderland.

Although Holmes was not present during the robbery, Nash apparently suspected Holmes had a part in it. After forcing Holmes to confess to his participation, and threatening his life and those of Holmes' family, Nash dispatched enforcers and Holmes to exact revenge against the Wonderland Gang. In the early hours of July 1, 1981, four of the gang's members were found murdered, and a fifth severely battered and near death, in their rowhouse. Holmes was allegedly present during the murders and left a left palm print (not 'bloody' as L.A. media outlets covering the story erroneously reported) over one victim's headboard, but it is unclear whether or not he participated in the killings.

Holmes was questioned regarding the murders in July 1981 but released due to lack of evidence. He refused to cooperate with the investigation, and after spending nearly five months on the run with Dawn Schiller, Holmes was arrested in Florida on December 4, 1981, by former LAPD homicide detectives Tom Lange and Frank Tomlinson, and extradicted to Los Angeles. In March 1982, Holmes was charged with personally committing all four murders. On June 26, 1982, Holmes was acquitted of all charges except contempt of court.[16] The Holmes Murder Trial was a landmark in American jurisprudence, as it was the first murder trial in America where videotape was introduced as evidence.[17]

Later life and death[edit]

In February 1986, six months after testing negative for the virus, Holmes was diagnosed as HIV positive. According to his second wife, Laurie Holmes, he claimed that he never used hypodermic needles and was deeply afraid of them. His first wife, Sharon Gebenini, and friend/former colleague, Bill Amerson, separately confirmed later that Holmes could not have contracted HIV from intravenous drug use, because he never used needles.[5]

During the summer of 1986, Holmes was offered a lucrative deal from Paradise Visuals, who were unaware he was HIV-positive, to travel to Italy to film (what were to be his last) two pornographic films. Holmes' penultimate film was The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empress (originally released in Italy as Carne Bollente) for director Riccardo Schicchi. The film starred Holmes, the later Italian Parliament member Ilona 'Cicciolina' Staller, Tracey Adams, Christoph Clark, and Amber Lynn.[18] His final film was The Devil In Mr. Holmes, starring Tracey Adams, Amber Lynn, Karin Schubert, and Marina Hedman.[19] These last films created a furor when it was revealed that Holmes had consciously chosen not to reveal his HIV status to his co-stars before engaging in unprotected sex for the filming.[18][20][21][22] Not wanting to reveal the true nature of his failing health, Holmes claimed to the press that he was suffering from colon cancer.[23]

Holmes married Laurie Rose on January 23, 1987 in Las Vegas, after confiding to her that he had AIDS.[24]

During the last five months of his life, Holmes remained in the VA hospital on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles. He died from AIDS-related complications (according to his death certificate, cardiorespiratory arrest and encephalitis due to AIDS, associated with lymphadenopathy and esophageal candidiasis) on March 13, 1988, aged 43.[13] His body was cremated, and his widow Laurie and mother Mary scattered his ashes at sea, off the coast of Oxnard, California.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Significant others[edit]

  • In August 1965, Holmes married a young nurse named Sharon Ann Gebenini at Fort Ord, California.[7] Their divorce was finalized on January 17, 1983.[citation needed]
  • In 1975, he met Julia St. Vincent on the set of his film, Liquid Lips, which was being produced by her uncle, Armand Atamian. Holmes and St. Vincent remained close until 1981 and the Wonderland murders. St. Vincent produced the ersatz biographical film of Holmes' life, Exhausted (1981).[26]
  • In 1976, Holmes (then 32 years old) met, courted, and ultimately began a sexual relationship with 15-year-old Dawn Schiller.[27] After descending into severe drug abuse, he beat and prostituted the teen, who in December 1981, while they were in Florida fleeing law enforcement following the Wonderland murders, broke free and was persuaded by her brother Wayne to turn John in to the authorities. In her memoir, The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes (2009), Schiller also describes her and her sister Terry's observations that John was a peeping Tom, who looked through their bungalow windows in Glendale, California, as well as strangers' hotel room windows at the Biltmore, Palm Springs.[28]
  • In 1982, Holmes met his second wife, Laurie Rose; they married in January 1987.[29] Holmes was stepfather to Rose's young son.[30]

Charitable work[edit]

Despite the notoriety and infamy associated with Holmes, he also devoted much time to charities involving the environment. He was involved with Greenpeace[31] and known to campaign and collect door-to-door for charities such as Save The Whales[29] and Save the Seals.[32]


Holmes enjoyed clay sculpting, woodworking, and outdoor activities such as visiting beaches, camping, fishing, and hiking.[32][33][34]

Penis size[edit]

"When an actress did her first scene with John Holmes, this was the time when she discovered if bigger was better or not. There was no other test."

— Porn actor Richard Pacheco in the documentary Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes (1998)

Holmes' main asset in the porn business was his exceptionally large penis. No definitive measurement or documentation verifying his penis' length or girth exists, leaving its exact size unknown.

Veteran porn actress Dorothea "Seka" Patton has stated that Holmes' penis was the biggest in the industry.[35] Holmes' first wife recalled his claiming to be 10 inches (25 cm) when he first measured himself.[36] On another occasion, Holmes once claimed his penis was 16 inches (41 cm) long.[36] Holmes' long-time friend and industry associate, Bill Amerson, said: "I saw John measure himself several times, it was 13 and a half inches" (34.3 cm).[5] (In contrast, medical studies of human penis size have consistently found erections average between about 5 and 6 inches.[37][38][39])

At the height of his career, Holmes had his penis insured by Lloyd's of London for $14 million. Holmes reveled in claiming he was insured "for $1 million an inch".[40]

"So celebrated was Holmes’ penis size it was used as a marketing tool for films he wasn’t even in. Anybody but My Husband had the promotional tag line “Tony The Hook Perez has a dick so big that he gives even John Holmes a run for his money."[36]

Another controversy regards whether Holmes ever achieved a full erection, although much of his early work clearly reveals he was able to achieve a substantial erection. A popular joke in the 1970s porn industry held that Holmes was incapable of achieving a full erection because the blood flow from his head into his penis would cause him to pass out.[41] Annette Haven stated that his penis was never particularly hard during intercourse, likening it to "doing it with a big, soft kind-of loofah."[41]

"'How big is it?' fans would scream. 'Bigger than a payphone, smaller than a Cadillac' was my reply."[42]

After Holmes' death, the length of his penis continued to be used to market Holmes-related material. For example, at the premiere of the film Wonderland (2003), patrons were given 13 1/2-inch rulers as gag gifts.[43]

Business activities and endeavors[edit]

In 1979, Holmes with his younger half-brother, David Bowman, opened in Los Angeles a locksmith shop managed by Bowman and an attached used goods store called The Just Looking Emporium, named by Sharon Gebinini and managed by Dawn Schiller. However, because of Holmes' escalating drug addiction, which distracted him from buying inventory for the Emporium and siphoned its working capital, the Emporium "close[d] its doors forever by the end of September 1980".[29][44] According to Schiller, "David keeps his part of the business open while John removes our inventory and sells it all for coke."[45]

Later, after his 1982 murder trial and acquittal, Holmes began a business partnership with his friend and associate Bill Amerson; they founded and operated a production company named Penguin Productions, where Holmes could be a triple-threat: writing, directing, and performing.[29] Holmes appeared in seven of Penguin's 20 productions between 1985 and 1988. After requesting permission to use the name from his old director and friend, Bob Chinn, Holmes reprised the detective role for the Penguin Production:The Return of Johnny Wadd (1986).

Holmes mythology[edit]

Holmes' career was promoted with a series of outrageous claims that he made over the years (many made up on the spur of the moment by Holmes himself). The most dubious ones include:

  • Holmes' penis was so big that he had to stop wearing underwear because: "I was getting erections and snapping the elastic waist band four or five times a month."[46]
  • Holmes had degrees in physical therapy, medicine, and political science from UCLA.[47] Holmes was in fact a high-school dropout who never returned to school; according to Bill Amerson, "the closest John ever got to UCLA was breaking into cars in the school's parking lot."[5]
  • Holmes and Ken Osmond, who played Eddie Haskell in the TV series Leave it to Beaver, were the same person. The two men simply shared a passing resemblance.[48]
  • During the filming of a gay feature film, Holmes inadvertently killed two male performers and was tried for manslaughter. The judge in the case sentenced Holmes to abstain from performing anal sex in any future films, an unproven urban myth.[49]


  • 2008 XBIZ Award - Lifetime Achievement - Male Performer[50]
  • February 14, 1985 - First inductee into the X-Rated Critic's Organization (XRCO) Hall of Fame

See also[edit]




  • Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story
  • Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes
  • XXXL: The John Holmes Story (also known as The Real Dirk Diggler: The John Holmes Story)
  • John Holmes: The Man, the Myth, the Legend


  1. ^ "Amersen interview". Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. 1999. 
  2. ^ Marriage records for Mary Barton Holmes and Edgar Holmes as researched at ,
  3. ^ "Ohio marriage records". 
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Bill Amerson interview". Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. 1998. 
  6. ^ a b Source: Sharon Holmes interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  7. ^ a b c Sager, Mike (2003). Scary Monsters and Super Freaks: Stories of Sex, Drugs, Rock 'N' Roll and Murder. Da Capo Press. p. 10. ISBN 1-56025-563-3. 
  8. ^ a b c "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: Wadd the Informer". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  9. ^ Robert W. Steward (April 14, 1988). "Holmes' Confession in Bathtub: Told Wife of Role in 4 Murders". Los Angeles Times. 
  10. ^ Sager, Mike (May 1989). "The Devil in John Holmes". Rolling Stne. 
  11. ^ MacDonell, Allen (October 2, 2003). "In Too Deep". Los Angeles Weekly. 
  12. ^ Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes (Director's Cut ed.). 1998. 
  13. ^ a b "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: AIDS and Misty Dawn". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  14. ^ "King Dong". p. 4. 
  15. ^ "In Too Deep". Rolling Stone. 
  16. ^ Scheeres, Julia. "Miami — The Wonderland Murders — Crime Library". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  17. ^ "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes", statement made by his lawyer, Earl Hanson.
  18. ^ a b John Patrick (2008). Huge. STARbooks Press. p. 13. ISBN 1-934187-29-1. 
  19. ^ Steve Javors (21 November 2007). "Paradise Visuals Inks Distribution Deal With Anabolic". XBIZ. Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  20. ^ Holden, Stephen (January 12, 2001). "WADD: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes". NY Times. 
  21. ^ William Hawes (2009). Caligula and the fight for artistic freedom: the making, marketing and impact of the Bob Guccione film. McFarland & Company. p. 203. ISBN 0-7864-3986-6. 
  22. ^ "La mala vida del rey del porno (Sanish)". El Mundo (May 16, 2004). Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  23. ^ "In Too Derp". Rolling Stone. 
  24. ^ Basten, Fred; Laurie Holmes; John C. Holmes (1998). Porn King: The John Holmes Story. John Holmes Inc. ISBN 1-880047-69-1. 
  25. ^ McNeil, Legs; Jennifer Osbourne; Peter Pavia (2005). The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film. HarperCollins. p. 451. ISBN 0-06-009659-4. 
  26. ^ Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes (1998)
  27. ^ Schiller, Dawn. Throwaway Teens. APB Speakers. 
  28. ^ Schiller, Dawn (2010). The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes. Medallion Press. 
  29. ^ a b c d Sager, Mike (May 1989). "The Devil in John Holmes". Rolling Stone. 
  30. ^ Sugar, Jennifer & Nelson, Jill C. (2008). John Holmes, A Life Measured in Inches. BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-302-9. 
  31. ^ Kennedy, Dana (September 7, 2003). "John Holmes’ Boogie Life". The New York Times. 
  32. ^ a b Schiller, Dawn (2009). The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes. Medallion Press. ASIN B00CNWM7FE. 
  33. ^ Kennedy, Dana (September 7, 2003). "John Holmes’ Boogie Life". The New York Times. 
  34. ^ Sugar, Jennifer & Nelson Jill C. (2008). John Holmes, a Life Measured in Inches. 
  35. ^ "Seka Interview". 
  36. ^ a b c "Biography of John Holmes". Retrieved February 2016. 
  37. ^ Wylie, K.; Eardley, I. (2007). "Penile size and the 'small penis syndrome'". BJU international 99 (6): 1449–1455. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2007.06806.x. PMID 17355371
  38. ^ Wessells, H; Lue, TF; McAninch, JW (1996). "Penile length in the flaccid and erect states: guidelines for penile augmentation". The Journal of urology 156 (3): 995–7. doi:10.1016/S0022-5347(01)65682-9. PMID 8709382
  39. ^ Chen, J.; Gefen, A.; Greenstein, A.; Matzkin, H.; Elad, D. (2000). "Predicting penile size during erection". International journal of impotence research 12 (6): 328–333. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3900627. PMID 11416836
  40. ^ "All Tied up in Knots (Interview with John C. Holmes)". Penthouse Magazine. July 1976. 
  41. ^ a b "Annette Haven interview". Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes. 1998. 
  42. ^ Holmes, John C. (January 31, 2012). Porn King: The Autobiography of John C. Holmes. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1593936853. 
  43. ^ "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  44. ^ Schiller, Dawn. The Road Through Wonderland. 
  45. ^ Schiller, Dawn. The Road Through Wonderland.  Chapter 11.
  46. ^ John Holmes interview. Exhausted. 
  47. ^ "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: 12.5 Inches". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  48. ^ Stengel, Richard (August 9, 1982). "When Eden Was in Suburbia". Time. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  49. ^ "Wadds Up? John Holmes Fact and Fiction". Man to Man Magazine. January 12, 1974. 
  50. ^ XBIZ Award Winners, XBIZ, February 2011
  51. ^ Sager, Mike (1989). "The Devil and John Holmes" (PDF). Scary Monsters and Super Freaks. 

External links[edit]