John Holmes (actor)

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For other people of the same name, see John Holmes (disambiguation).
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, U.S.
Died March 13, 1988(1988-03-13) (aged 43)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
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 porn-actor
Years active 1969–1988
Height 6 ft 2 in (188 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 in a series of related films), was one of the most prolific male pornographic film actors of all time, appearing in about 2,500 adult loops and pornographic feature movies in the 1970s and 1980s.

He was best known for his exceptionally large penis, which was heavily promoted as being 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 attracted notoriety for his involvement in the Wonderland murders in 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, two feature length documentaries, and was the inspiration for two Hollywood movies (Boogie Nights and Wonderland).

Early life[edit]

John 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); the name of his father was not listed on his birth certificate. Mary and her husband, Edward Holmes, the father of Holmes' three older siblings, Dale, Edward and Anne, were married and divorced three times throughout their marriage, with wedding certificates dated 4/13/1936, 8/13/1945, and 9/12/1947.[2] At the time of their first marriage in 1936, Edgar was 35 years old and already a 1-time divorcee, and Mary was 17.[3] After their third and final mutual divorce, Edgar and Mary each married one more time.[4]

Mary changed John's surname to Holmes when he was a child. In 1986, prior to a trip to Italy, his mother provided him with the hand-written copy of his original birth certificate that Holmes learned the name of his biological father, Carl Estes. John's mother was a devout Southern Baptist, who regularly attended the Milport Chapel Church along with her children, where John had perfect attendance.

John's stepfather, Edward Holmes, was an alcoholic who would come home inebriated, stumble about the house, and even vomit on the children. As a child, John enjoyed a reprieve from his turbulent home life when he visited his maternal grandparents. Mary Holmes divorced her husband 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 after, 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 John's younger half-brother, David, was born, at which point Bowman lost interest in his stepchildren and began neglecting them.[1][5]

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.[5] 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.[6]

Holmes found work as a forklift driver at meat packing warehouse in nearby Cudahy, California. However, repeated exposures to inhaling 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 between seven to nine months during the two years he worked there.[6] According to Sharon Holmes, during the first 17 months of Sharon's marriage to John, she suffered three miscarriages due to fetal cranial indentations.



"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 he made during the early part of his career is difficult because the ad copy rarely named him. Those that did usually used entirely inconsistent names. For example, one early "Swedish Erotica" brochure from 1973 has five loops featuring Holmes, each with a different name. In the early years of his porn career, Holmes was nicknamed "The Sultan of Smut", a play on Babe Ruth's nickname, The Sultan of Swat.

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.

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.[7] 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.

By 1978, Holmes was reputed to be earning as much as $3,000 a day as a porn performer.[1][7] Around this time (the late 1970s), his consumption of cocaine and freebasing was becoming a serious problem. Professionally, it affected his ability to maintain an erection, as is apparent from his flaccid performance in the 1980 film Insatiable. 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 16-year-old Dawn Schiller who became his girlfriend. After Holmes became desperate, he prostituted both her and himself, and beat her in public.[8][9][10]

Number of partners[edit]

In 1981, he began to claim that he had had intercourse with 10,000 women.[7] The number had in fact been invented by Holmes to help salvage his waning image.[1] (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]

His performances included at least one homosexual feature film, The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes,[11] and a handful of gay loops.

Drugs and the Wonderland murders[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Wonderland murders.

In the early 1980s, Holmes developed a close friendship with drug dealer and nightclub owner Eddie Nash. 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 hideout: a rowhouse located on Wonderland Avenue in the wooded Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. Holmes worked for the gang, frequently selling drugs for them. After stealing money during a couple of drug runs, Holmes was in trouble with the gang. In June 1981, allegedly in exchange for his life, he told gang leaders about a very 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 did not participate in the robbery, Nash apparently suspected that Holmes had a part in it. After getting Holmes to confess to his participation, and threatening his life and that of Holmes' family, Nash exacted revenge against the Wonderland Gang. In the early hours of July 1, 1981, four of the gang's members were found murdered in their hideout. Holmes was allegedly present during the murders, but it is unclear if he participated in the killings.

Holmes was questioned regarding the murders in July 1981, but released due to lack of evidence. Holmes refused to co-operate with the investigation. After spending nearly five months on the run with Dawn Schiller, he was arrested in Florida on December 4, 1981 by former LAPD homicide detectives Tom Lange and Frank Tomlinson and returned 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.[12] 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.[13]

Later life and death[edit]

In February 1986, six months after testing negative for the virus, Holmes was diagnosed as HIV positive. According to Laurie Holmes, he claimed that he never used hypodermic needles and was deeply afraid of them. Both his first wife, Sharon, as well as Bill Amerson, separately confirmed later that Holmes could not have contracted HIV from intravenous drug use because he never used needles.[1]

During the summer of 1986, Holmes was offered a substantial sum of money by Paradise Visuals (who were unaware of Holmes' HIV-positive status) to travel to Italy where he filmed his last two porno movies. The penultimate one 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.[14] His final film was The Devil In Mr. Holmes, starring Tracey Adams, Amber Lynn, Karin Schubert, and Marina Hedman.[15] 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.[14][16][17][18]

Not wanting to reveal the true nature of his failing health, Holmes claimed to the press that he was suffering from colon cancer. Holmes married Laurie Rose on January 23, 1987 in Las Vegas, after confiding to her that he had AIDS.[19]

During the last five months of his life, Holmes remained in the VA hospital on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles. John Holmes 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 at the age of 43.[11] His body was cremated and his widow, Laurie, and his mother, Mary, scattered his ashes from an urn at sea off the coast of Oxnard, California.[20]

Personal life[edit]

  • In August 1965, he married a young nurse named Sharon Gebenini.[6] He remained married to her until their divorce was finalized on January 17, 1983.
  • In 1975, he met Julia Saint Vincent on the set of his film, Liquid Lips, which was being produced by her uncle, Armand Atamian. Holmes and Saint Vincent stayed close until 1981 and the Wonderland affair. Saint Vincent produced the ersatz biographical film of Holmes' life, Exhausted.[21]
  • In 1983, Holmes met his second wife, Laurie Rose. They married in January 1988.[22] Holmes acted as stepfather to Rose's young son.

The true number of women (and men) with whom Holmes had sex during his career will never be completely known. After his death, his ex-wife Sharon came across a foot locker that was plated in 24k gold leaf, which contained photographic references of his "private work." She burned all of it.[23]

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 and Times of John C. Holmes.

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

Veteran porn actress Dorothea "Seka" Patton has stated that Holmes' penis was the biggest in the industry.[24] Holmes' first wife recalled him claiming to be 10 inches (25 cm) when he first measured himself.[25] Holmes himself once claimed his penis to be 16 inches (41 cm) long.[25] Holmes' long-time friend and industry associate, Bill Amerson, said that "I saw John measure himself several times, it was 13 and a half inches" (34.3 cm).[1] (In contrast, medical studies of human penis size have consistently found erections average between about 5 and 6 inches.[26][27][28])

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".[29]

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.[30] Annette Haven stated that his penis was never particularly hard during intercourse, likening it to "doing it with a big, soft kind-of loofah."[30]

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

—John Holmes in his book Porn King: The Autobiography of John C. Holmes.

So celebrated was Holmes' penis size it was used as a marketing tool for films in which he did not appear. 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." After his death, the length of Holmes' penis continued to be used to market Holmes-related material. At the premiere of the film Wonderland, patrons were given thirteen-and-a-half-inch rulers as gag gifts.[31]

Business activities and endeavors[edit]

In 1979, Holmes with his younger half-brother, David Bowman, opened up a locksmith and used furniture store called The Just Looking Emporium in Los Angeles which both managed. But because of Holmes' escalating drug addiction and of the lack of money to operate the store since Holmes was squandering all of his and other people's money to buy cocaine for himself, the business failed by the end of that year.[22]

Later, after his 1982 murder trial and acquittal, Holmes began a business partnership with his friend and associate Bill Amerson, as they founded and operated a production company titled Penguin Productions, where Holmes could be a triple-threat: writing, directing, and performing.[22] Of Penguin's twenty productions between 1985 and 1988, Holmes appeared in seven films. After requesting permission to use the name from his old director friend, Bob Chinn, Holmes reprised the detective role for the 1986 Penguin Production:The Return of Johnny Wadd.

Despite the notoriety and infamy associated with Holmes, he also devoted much time to charities involving the environment. He was known to campaign and collect door-to-door for charities such as Save The Whales.[22]

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."[32]
  • Holmes had degrees in physical therapy, medicine, and political science from UCLA.[33] 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."[1]
  • 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.[34]
  • 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.[35]


  • 2008 XBIZ Award - Lifetime Achievement - Male Performer [36]
  • February 14, 1985 - First inductee into the X-Rated Critic's Organization (XRCO) Hall of Fame

See also[edit]


  • John Holmes, A Life Measured in Inches, by Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson. 2008, BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-302-9. (Updated 2nd edition, 2011 ISBN 978-1-59393-674-7)
  • Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story (1981 documentary)
  • Wadd - The Life and Times of John C. Holmes (1998 documentary)
  • The Devil and John Holmes by Mike Sager, Rolling Stone. June 15, 1989; reprinted in "Scary Monsters and Super Freaks" (2004).
  • Porn King: Autobiography of John C. Holmes (1998). (out of print)
  • Porn King, Autobiography of John C. Holmes (2012). A revised version with added material and photos was re-released through Bear Manor Media. ISBN 1-59393-685-0
  • XXXL: The John Holmes Story (2000 documentary)[37] Also known as "The Real Dirk Diggler: The John Holmes Story"
  • John Holmes: The Man, the Myth, the Legend (2004 documentary)[38]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Bill Amerson interview in the documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes
  2. ^ Marriage records for Mary Barton Holmes and Edgar Holmes as researched at ,
  3. ^ Ohio marriage records;
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Source: Sharon Holmes interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ a b c "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: Wadd the Informer". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  8. ^ "Holmes' Confession in Bathtub: Told Wife of Role in 4 Murders." April 14, 1988 Rolling Stone.
  9. ^ "The Devil in John Holmes." Los Angeles Times. May 15, 1989.
  10. ^ MacDonell, Allen. "In Too Deep." Los Angeles Weekly.
  11. ^ a b "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: AIDS and Misty Dawn". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  12. ^ Scheeres, Julia. "Miami — The Wonderland Murders — Crime Library". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  13. ^ "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes", statement made by his lawyer, Earl Hanson.
  14. ^ a b John Patrick (2008). Huge. STARbooks Press. p. 13. ISBN 1-934187-29-1. 
  15. ^ Steve Javors (21 November 2007). "Paradise Visuals Inks Distribution Deal With Anabolic". XBIZ. Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  16. ^ Holden, Stephen (January 12, 2001). "WADD: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes". NY Times. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ "La mala vida del rey del porno (Sanish)". El Mundo (May 16, 2004). Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  19. ^ Basten, Fred; Laurie Holmes; John C. Holmes (1998). Porn King: The John Holmes Story. John Holmes Inc. ISBN 1-880047-69-1. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ Citation: "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes"
  22. ^ a b c d "The Devil in John Holmes." Rolling Stone. May 1989.
  23. ^ Citation: "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, Director's Cut"
  24. ^ "Seka Interview". 
  25. ^ a b John Holmes - Biography
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ 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
  29. ^ All Tied up in Knots, an interview with John C. Holmes published in Penthouse Magazine, July 1976.
  30. ^ a b Source: Annette Haven interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  31. ^ "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  32. ^ John Holmes interview in the biographical documentary Exhausted
  33. ^ "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: 12.5 Inches". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  34. ^ Stengel, Richard (August 9, 1982). "When Eden Was in Suburbia". Time. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  35. ^ Wadds Up? John Holmes Fact and Fiction a feature in Man to Man Magazine, January 12, 1974
  36. ^ XBIZ Award Winners, XBIZ, February 2011
  37. ^ XXXL: The John Holmes Story
  38. ^ John Holmes: The Man, the Myth, the Legend (2004)

External links[edit]