John Holmes (actor)
Name at BirthJohn Curtis Estes
BornAugust 8, 1944
BirthplaceAshville, Ohio, U.S.
DiedMarch 13, 1988
Place of deathLos Angeles, CA, U.S.
Height6 ft 2 in
Weight135 lb

John Curtis Estes (August 3, 1944 – March 13, 1988) better known as John Holmes, John C. Holmes or Johnny Wadd (after the lead character in a series of related films), was one of the most famous male adult film stars of all time, appearing in about 2,500 adult loops, stag films, and porno feature movies in the 1970s and 1980s, including at least one gay feature film and a handful of gay loops. He was best known for his exceptionally large, uncircumcised penis, which was heavily promoted as being the longest in the porn industry; its exact dimensions are, however, uncertain and the subject of controversy. Holmes also attracted notoriety for his involvement in the brutal Wonderland Murders in 1981, and for his death from AIDS.

Holmes was the subject of a long article in Rolling Stone magazine in 1989 and a feature length documentary, and the inspiration for two Hollywood movies (Boogie Nights and Wonderland).

Additionally he has been the subject of numerous biographical films and documentaries, such as Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story, Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, "John Holmes, Superstar", "John Holmes: The Man, The Myth, The Legend", and "XXXL: The John Holmes Story".

Early life

Born in Ashville, Pickaway County, Ohio, as John Curtis Estes, Holmes knew very little of his father Carl Estes, a railroad worker, who walked out on the family when John was three or four years old. John's mother Mary, a devout Southern Baptist, married Edgar Holmes a few years later and changed the family's surname to Holmes. His new stepfather proved to be a violent alcoholic who would come home inebriated, stumble about the house, and even vomit on the children. Mary Holmes later Divorced him, and moved to Columbus, Ohio, with her children where they lived on welfare for a few years. When John was age eight, his mother met and married her third husband, Harold Bowman. They moved from Columbus and settled in nearby Pataskala, Ohio. After a few years of marriage, Bowman frequently beat Holmes, the youngest of four children, according to Sharon Holmes, his first wife.[1]

When John was 16, Bowman started to beat him yet again, but the strapping teenager instead struck back and decked Bowman, sending him down a staircase.[2] John ran away from home and after a few days of living in the streets, he returned to his home and told his mother that if he stayed in the house much longer he would kill Bowman (ibid). After asking for the permission of his mother, Holmes enlisted in the United States Army and spent three years in Germany in the Signal Corps. Upon his discharge, Holmes moved to Los Angeles where he worked in a variety of jobs, including selling goods door to door, tending the vats at a Coffee-Nips factory, and occasionally as a homosexual prostitute[citation needed]. It was during his stint as an ambulance driver that he met a nurse named Sharon Gebenini in December 1964. They married in the spring of 1965.


DVD cover of the documentary Wadd

Porn career

For the next two years, Holmes and his wife, Sharon, lived quiet, uneventful lives. Holmes found work as a forklift driver at a meat packing warehouse. However, the rigors of driving the forklift truck in and out of a large walk-in freezer and repeated exposures to inhaling the sub-freezing air in the freezer after being outside inhaling the desert-hot air caused severe health problems, leading to a pneumothorax (lung collapse) of his right lung on three separate occasions within the period of seven to nine months. While recovering from his illness, Holmes frequented a men's card-playing club in Gardena, where one evening, a still photogapher standing next to him at a restroom urinal, noticed his extraordinary penis size and encouraged him to do pornography. Initially during the late 1960s, Holmes did magazine work and an occasional 8 mm loop, keeping his work in porn a secret from his wife. This was easier to do in those days; pornography production and distribution were semi-clandestine, there was no mass production of video cassettes or DVD's, and no Internet.

So, while the ad copy for his first few dozen loops rarely named him, those that did usually gave him a name that was nowhere near what his real first name was. In fact, one early "Swedish Erotica" brochure from 1973 has five Holmes loops listed, each of which has a different name referring to Holmes even though it is obvious from his facial features that "Fred", "Dave", "Rudy", "Big Dick", and "Stan" are all the same person.

With the success of Deep Throat (1972), The Devil in Miss Jones (1972), and Behind the Green Door (1973), porn had become 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.

In 1973, Holmes' career began to rise with a porn series built around a private investigator named Johnny Wadd. By 1978, Holmes was reputed to be earning as much as $3,000 a day as a porn actor. He starred at a time when an attractive personality could compensate for a lack of other aesthetic characteristics, and a certain amount of acting ability was still demanded of porn stars on a level that is not seen as necessary in today's porn films.

While his vocal inflection was arguably somewhat higher in pitch than one would expect for a "hard boiled private dick", most film critics and fans agreed that Holmes did demonstrate enough acting ability to keep the character of "Johnny Wadd" from being merely a banal, one-dimensional parody of Raymond Chandler's creation, the tough and uncompromising private detective Philip Marlowe. By this time, his addiction to cocaine was becoming a problem, so much so that it was beginning to affect his ability to gain an erection.

penis size

Despite his lack of acting ability, what made Holmes famous was his exceptionally large, uncircumcised penis. Holmes' first wife, Sharon Gebenini, recalled him claiming to be 10 inches (25 cm) when he first measured himself. However, at the start of his cinematic career, he was widely publicized as having a penis ranging from 12.5 to 16 inches (32–41 cm) long when fully erect.

So celebrated was Holmes' reputed penis size that it was even used as a marketing tool for films in which he did not even appear. In the porn classic Anybody but My Husband, the promotional tag line read "Tony The Hook Perez has a dick so big that he gives even John Holmes a run for his money."[3]

Different attempts to objectively ascertain the actual length of his penis have led to varying results. An American study of video footage of Holmes' penis concluded his penis was 10–11 inches long (25–28 cm), whereas another study comparing many pictures of his penis to the estimated measurements of other parts of his own body led to the conclusion of 8 3/4 inches (22 cm). Holmes' longtime manager, Bill Amerson, that "I saw John measure himself several times, it was 13 and a half inches".[4] Holmes' last wife, Laurie "Misty Dawn" Rose claims that John Holmes himself claimed himself at 10 inches.

Veteran porn actress Dorothiea "Seka" Patton has claimed Holmes' penis was the biggest in the industry [1], though not all who had sex with him agree.

Filmmaker Cass Paley stated in the Director's soundtrack to his Holmes biodoc, "Wadd" that "In the early days of his career, I saw Holmes fully erect and it was scary. He was huge."

Regardless of what the actual length of Holmes' penis was, some people question whether he ever achieved full erections on movie sets. Veteran porn actress Annette Haven, for instance, recalled in the documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes that "as the joke goes, if John ever became fully erect, he'd lose consciousness from lack of blood to the brain because his dick was that big. And it's true that his cock was never hard. It [having onscreen sex] was like doing it with a big, soft kind of luffa."

Number of partners

Penis length was not the only questionable statistic used in connection with Holmes. In 1981, he began to spread the rumour that he had had sex with 20,000 women. If you assume Holmes' first experience with a woman occurred at 16 as he claimed, then he would have had to have made love to 700 different women a year—1.9 women a day—for the 20 years that had passed. More realistic estimates, such as that of Luke Ford, put the figure at around "only" 3,000. Quick estimates based on the number of loops where Holmes did in fact perform a sexual act with at least one woman, allowing for sexual encounters not performed before a camera, and further mitigated by counting a performing partner only once—again, some actresses, such as Seka, the porn star with whom he was rumored to have had a lurid affair, Connie "Little French Maid" Peterson, Eileen Welles, Victoria Waters, Linda McDowell, Juliet "Aunt Peg" Anderson, and Desireé Cousteau, made numerous loops with Holmes in the 1970s—Ford's estimate of 3,000 by 1981 is closer to being realistic.

According to Holmes' close friend Bill Amerson in the documentary Wadd, Holmes lost track of the exact number of women with whom he had sex. According to Amerson, Holmes became so fervent in spreading false publicity about himself that he also eventually lost track of what stories were true and which were lies; at one point in Wadd, Amerson recalls that Holmes, early in his career, told the press that a wealthy British socialite paid him to travel to England once a year and pleasure her for twenty-four hours. Later in life, Holmes fondly recalled to Amerson his adventures in England—which, of course, never occurred.

The women in Holmes' private life

While estimates of his on screen and professional sex partners range in the thousands, it appears that there were perhaps 4 or 5 women who actually were close to Holmes in his private life. Holmes was reputedly meticulous in keeping his professional and private lives separated.

In 1965 he married a young nurse named Sharon Gebenini. He remained married to her until 1985.

In 1975 he met Julia St. Vincent, on the set of his blockbuster film, Liquid Lips, which was being produced by her uncle, Armand Atamian. Holmes and St Vincent stayed close until 1981 and the Wonderland affair. St Vincent is the woman who produced the ersatz biographical film of Holmes' life, Exhausted.[5]

In 1976 he met a young 16-year-old, Dawn Schiller, who was his girlfriend from 1976 through the Wonderland incident in 1981. She left Holmes in December 1981 when she turned him into police in Florida. (ibid)

In 1983 Holmes met his second wife, Laurie Rose. They were married in 1987.

Drugs and "Wonderland murders"

Template:Detail Holmes's drug addiction began to seriously affect his ability to perform in porn, and producers' willingness to hire him, so he ventured into crime, selling drugs for gangs, prostituting himself to both men and women, committing credit card fraud and petty theft. In 1976, he met a 16-year old girl, Dawn Schiller, who became his girlfriend. After Holmes fell on hard times, he later prostituted both her and himself. Dawn, who appeared in news stories as "Jeana Sellers"[6][7] after Holmes allegedly once publicly beat her in Florida,[8] is not to be confused with Holmes's second wife, Laurie Rose, a porn actress and so-called anal sex queen who was sometimes called Misty Dawn.

In 1981, Holmes was arrested for stealing a computer from a car.

Holmes had developed a close friendship with drug dealer and nightclub owner Eddie Nash, who supplied Holmes with drugs he desired, principally cocaine. At the same time, Holmes was closely associated with the Wonderland Gang, 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 found himself in trouble with the Wonderland Gang. Allegedly in exchange for his life, he told gang leaders in June 1981 about Nash and a very large stash of drugs, money and jewelry Nash had in his house, and helped to set up a robbery which was committed on the morning of June 29, 1981.

Although Holmes did not participate in the robbery, Nash apparently suspected that Holmes had a part in masterminding it. After getting Holmes to confess to his participation, Nash allegedly exacted revenge against the Wonderland Gang. Two days after the robbery, in the early hours of July 1, 1981, four of the gang's members were found murdered in their rowhouse hideout in what is now known as the Wonderland Murders. Holmes was present during the murders, but it is unclear whether he participated in the killings.

Holmes had been incarcerated in connection with the murders, but released due to lack of evidence. He spent six months on the run with Dawn Schiller, but was arrested in Florida and returned to Los Angeles. The authorities, angered[citation needed] by Holmes refusal to co-operate with the investigation, charged him with committing all four murders during a robbery gone wrong.

But the prosecution's case was flawed from the start with it being physically impossible for one man alone to have single-handedly bludgeoned to death four people and nearly killing a fifth. The strongest evidence against Holmes was a hand-print found on a bed rail where one of the victims was found on, which implied that Holmes may have been holding onto the bed rail with his left hand while bludgeoning to death the victim with a blunt instrument with his right hand. But since Holmes frequented the house, his fingerprints were all over the house. As a result, Holmes was acquitted of all four murder charges on June 25, 1982. Holmes once again refused to tell authorities what he knew about the case, and stayed in jail until November for contempt of court. Holmes told friends and stated to police that it would profit him nothing to tell the truth because "someone he loved would die" if he did so (see "Porn King"). When Holmes was released from jail, he attempted to reunite with his estranged wife, but she was not interested. According to Sharon Holmes, "He said that he would change and get out of the business. I told him that he didn't know how to change. I remember this because it is the first time I said the word fuck and I told him Get the fuck out of my life."[9]

Holmes then sought to reunite with Dawn Schiller, his earlier girlfriend, who, unknown to Holmes, had gone to Thailand with her father, where she stayed for nearly seven years. She did not return to Los Angeles until several weeks before Holmes's death in 1988.[10][11]

Sharon Holmes divorced John Holmes in 1985, but only after an IRS tax lien on Holmes (and by proxy his wife) nearly wiped out her finances.

When Holmes resumed work in porn in November 1982, the industry had begun the transition from film to videotape. Work was still plentiful, but less lucrative and he was no longer the premier male star. His drug addiction continued, as did the inconsistent performances on set. At this time, he appeared to have become disillusioned with the porn industry. His inability to gain an erection was becoming common and employers began opting for younger talent.

Business activities

In 1979, Holmes and his younger half-brother, David Bowman, opened a combination locksmith service and antique shop called the Just Looking Emporium. However Holmes' drug usage soon took precedence over business matters and the company went out of business before the year was over.

Later, after his 1982 murder trial and acquittal, Holmes began a business partnership with his manager Bill Amerson, as they founded and operated a production company Penquin Productions, where Holmes could be a triple-threat writing, directing, and performing.[12]

Charitable endeavors

Despite the notoriety and infamy associated with Holmes, he also devoted much time to charities involving the environment. He was known to even campaign and collect door-to-door for charities such as Save The Whales.[13]

Holmes mythology

The career of Holmes was promoted by a series of outrageous claims that he had made over the years, the most outrageous ones include:

  • That he lost his virginity at the age of 6 to his Swedish nursemaid, Freida.[14]
  • That he spent his childhood travelling the world with his rich aunt, who saw to it that he learned the fine arts.
  • That his penis was so big that he had to stop wearing underwear because "I was getting erections and snapping the elastic waist band 4 or 5 times a month"[15]
  • That he had made love to over 14,000 women.[16]
  • That he had a post graduate degree in "Pediatrics in Physical Therapy" from UCLA.
  • That he inadvertently killed two men by performing anal sex upon them, was tried and convicted of manslaughter, and was sentenced by the judge to never have anal sex again... a preposterous Urban Myth.

Last days

As Holmes' career started to decline, he starred in his only full-length feature gay porn movie, The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes, in 1983. In the movie, Holmes performed anal sex with Joey Yale, who died of AIDS in 1986. Despite his appearance in this film, many of his heterosexual fans remained unaware that Holmes was bisexual, having also had sex with men in some early loops and as a male prostitute outside the porn industry.

Around this time he met his future girlfriend and wife, Laurie Rose, a.k.a. Misty Dawn, a porn actress. In the early 1980s Rose was known by some as one of the industry's many so-called anal queens. Rose and Holmes met on the set of the film Marathon. Holmes chronicler and confidante Bill Amerson states that Rose commented that "I want to have all that up my butt" (referring to Holmes) and, in fact, off camera that did happen and Holmes and Rose became a couple from that point forward.[17]

In February 1986, Holmes was diagnosed as HIV positive. According to Laurie Rose, Holmes claimed that he never used needles and was deeply afraid of them. However, many porn historians and industry insiders from that era have heard testimony from some of Holmes' fellow performers to the contrary. Some have first-hand knowledge of his heroin abuse and also cite on-screen evidence of visible vein damage to the insides on Holmes' forearms. This damage becomes more apparent as Holmes moved from 8 mm loops to feature films, where the better quality of the 35mm film stock showed the detail that grainy 8 mm tended to mask.

Regardless of the nature of his addiction, other risk factors were present in his lifestyle, and there is no way to identify which of them led to his HIV infection. There has been speculation that experimentation with homosexuality—including the frequently mentioned rumor that he used the services of transsexual prostitutes—was the source of his infection. Other reports claim that, while in jail during the Wonderland Murders investigation, Holmes had at least one male-male sexual encounter with another prisoner who was HIV positive; the more gaudy version has jail guards bribing Holmes with better treatment, including beer and other contraband, if he would sodomize other prisoners who either had violated prison rules or were known to be homosexuals and were the victims of sadistic games on the part of the guards. To date, however, no clear evidence of any of these assertions has ever been offered.

Holmes's first wife Sharon Gebenini and longtime porn friend Bill Amerson both dispute the rumors of intravenous drug abuse. Says Gebenini: "When I heard that he had contracted AIDS I knew that it had to have been transmitted sexually rather than from drug abuse. This man was terrified of needles, absolutely terrified. So I knew it was sexually transmitted. There is no other way". Amerson similarly states, "To those who claim to have shot drugs with John I say bullshit. John was terrified of needles." These accounts are all the more significant when one considers that while Gebenini and Amerson were both very close to Holmes, they barely knew each other as Gebenini wanted nothing to do with Holmes's porn friends and did not associate with them at all.

Some Holmes historians, including Luke Ford, Adair Carter and Amerson, have noted that evidence of Holmes' intravenous drug usage can be seen in frames from his last films. Closeups of his forearms in scenes where the lighting was suitable clearly show the type of venous discoloration associated with damage observed in heroin addicts. Frames from earlier films show the same damage, though to a lesser degree, and provide significant evidence that Gebenini's contrary claims regarding Holmes' drug problem are incorrect.

Holmes continued to have unprotected sex in the adult film industry without informing any of his partners of his status, and worked until the disease emaciated him in 1987. While a notable female performer he worked with, "Lisa DeLeeuw", died of AIDS in 1993, the last time she performed with Holmes, was apparently in 1981, which makes it unlikely that she contracted HIV from him.

Holmes married Laurie Rose in January 1988. Two months before his death, two police detectives visited him in the hospital, in another futile attempt to extract information about the Wonderland murders. John Holmes died from AIDS complications on March 13, 1988 at the age of forty three. His body was immediately cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea off the coast of Oxnard, California. Laurie Rose took the name Laurie Holmes and later published the book Porn King: Autobiography of John C. Holmes in 1998.


Holmes's legacy has become more renowned and publicly acceptable. A documentary on his wild life (Wadd—The Life and Times of John C. Holmes) has achieved cult status among certain late-night college campus independent film houses, and some elements of the film Boogie Nights were loosely based on Holmes' life, including the Laurel Canyon "Wonderland" murders. That aspect of his life was presented in a biographical movie called Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer and released on October 17, 2003.

Franzk Zapp-ian musicians extraordinaires Elio e le Storie Tese did homage Holmes with one of their first hits titled "John Holmes (A Life lived for Cinema)", included on their debut album Elio Samaga Hukapan Kariyana Turu published in 1989.

Finally, since the majority of Holmes' loops have gone into public domain following the collapse of Caballero Control Corporation in 1990, there are efforts underway to locate all surviving 8 mm loops starring Holmes and convert them to DVD for posterity. However, since the life expectancy of most 8 mm films is very poor (due to the nature of the film stock used at that time), it is believed that as much as 60–70% of Holmes' loops might be lost forever.

Selected adult feature films

  • Sex and the Single Vampire (1970)
  • Gang Bang (1970)
  • Johnny Wadd (1971) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • Long John (1971)
  • Superstud (1971)
  • Flesh of the Lotus (1971) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • Tropic of Passion (1973) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • Helen Bedd (1973)
  • Oriental Sex Kitten (1975)
  • Puss*O*Rama (1975)
  • Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak (1976)
  • Tell Them Johnny Wadd Is Here (1976) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • Liquid Lips (1976) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • The Autobiography of a Flea (1976)
  • Tapestry of Passion (1976)
  • Teenage Cruisers (1977)
  • Eruption (1977)
  • Cream Rinse (1977)
  • Hard Soap, Hard Soap (1977)
  • The Jade Pussycat (1977) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • The Erotic Adventures of Candy (1978)
  • The China Cat (1978) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • Blonde Fire (1978) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • The Senator's Daughter (1979)
  • Anal Ultra Vixens (1979)
  • California Gigolo (1979)
  • Extreme Close Up (1979)
  • Taxi Girls (1979)
  • Sweet Captive (1979)
  • Sweet Cheeks (1980)
  • John Holmes and the All Star Sex Queens (1980)
  • Prisoner of Paradise (1980)
  • Rockin' with Seka, or Seka's Cruise (1980)
  • Insatiable (1980)
  • Aunt Peg (1980)
  • Insatiable (1980)
  • Aunt Peg's Fulfillment (1981)
  • Exhausted (1980)
  • Balling for Dollar$ (1980)
  • Honey Throat (1980)
  • Let Me Count the Lays (1980)
  • Up 'n Coming (1983)
  • Nasty Nurses (1983)
  • The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes (1983)
  • California Valley Girls (1983)
  • Backdoor Romance (1984)
  • Girls on Fire (1984)
  • The Grafenberg Spot (1985)
  • Looking for Mr. Goodsex (1985)
  • Dickman and Throbbin (1985)
  • Cumshot Revue (1985)
  • Backdoor Brides (1986)
  • The Return of Johnny Wadd (1986) (as Johnny Wadd)
  • Rockey X (1986)
  • The Rise of the Roman Empress (1986)
  • The Devil in Mr. Holmes (1986)
  • Saturday Night Beaver (1986)

See also

  • List of gay porn stars



  1. Source: Sharon Holmes interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  2. Source: Sharon Holmes interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  3. Source:
  4. Source: Bill Amerson interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  5. Citation: "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes"
  6. Source: LA Times Article Holmes' Confession in Bathtub: Told Wife of Role in 4 Murders, April 14, 1988
  7. Source: Rolling Stone Article The Devil in John Holmes, May 15, 1989
  8. Source: LA Weekly Article In Too Deep by by Allan MacDonell
  9. Source: Sharon Holmes interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  10. Source: Dawn Schiller interview in the documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes
  11. Source: Dawn Schiller Official Web Site,
  12. Citations from "The Devil in John Holmes", Rolling Stone Magazine 1989
  13. Rolling Stone article "The Devil in John Holmes", May 1989.
  14. Rolling Stone magazine artile The Devil in John Holmes, My 15, 1989
  15. Source: John Holmes interview in the ersatz biographical documentary Exhausted
  16. Ibid
  17. Source: Bill Amerson interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes


  • 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).
  • XXXL: The John Holmes Story (2000 documentary)

External links

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