John Holmes

March 30th, 2011

John Holmes

Facts about John Holmes – A Life Measured in Inches

Anecdote:  In 1985, John jokingly described how he would like to dedicate his memoir that was eventually published posthumously as ”Porn King” in 1998:  “I would like this book dedicated to the only woman I’ve ever loved.  Because there’s about two thousand of them out there who are gonna go, ‘Ah… wasn’t that wonderful?’” – John Holmes


John Curtis Holmes was born in Pickaway County, Ohio, on August 8th, 1944.  John’s biological father is Carl Estes. 

John’s mother, Mary Holmes (nee Barton), was estranged from her alcoholic husband, Edward Holmes, at the time of John’s birth.  The couple had three older children.  Mary and Edward would eventually (permanently) separate and she would later marry Harold Bowman before giving birth to another child, David.

John and his siblings were raised in the Baptist faith; as a child, John had perfect Sunday school attendance.

At age nine, after some experimentation with a babysitter, John engaged in his first sexual experience with a childhood girlfriend.

In 1960, at age 16, John joined the Signal Corps to escape his physically abusive step-father, Harold Bowman.  He was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany for a period of three years before settling in Southern California.

Kirdy Stevens directed John in his first short in 1964, a non-sex nudist film, along with his (longtime) girlfriend, auburn-haired, adult film starlet, Sandy Dempsey.

While working as an ambulance driver, in December 1964, John met his first wife of 19 years, Sharon Gebenini.  Sharon was employed as a registered nurse.  The couple were married in Fort Ord, California, in August 1965.

By the late 1960s, John had appeared in several simulated and also hardcore loops with various female co-stars.  John occasionally appeared in soft and hardcore loops with other males.  Directors were impressed with his exceptionally large, uncircumcised, all-natural endowment.

After dropping his pants, John was hired by Johnny Wadd creator and director, Bob Chinn, to star in the very first of the nine-part series that showcased Holmes as the lusty private detective, Johnny Wadd.  The film was simply titled, Johnny Wadd (1970).  

In 1975, Freeway Films, based in Los Angeles and owned by Armand Atamian, produced the highly profitable feature, Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here (and four more) in a financial maneuver that secured John Holmes as the first male superstar in the adult film genre.  The last film of the Johnny Wadd series, Blonde Fire, was released in 1978.

During his reign as the first male icon of X-rated movies, John, along with Sharon, co-managed the Glendale apartment complex where they resided in their own home on the property.  John also worked as a handy man on the grounds – repairing roofs, plumbing, painting, gardening, restoring wood and mowing the lawn.

WaikikiW.jpg.w300h200 In 1976, John, who had abstained from drugs and alcohol during the early years of his career (but started smoking marijuana in the early part of the 1970s) began to indulge in the frequent use of cocaine.  By 1980, freebase became the root of Holmes’ downward spiral in his professional and private lives.

On July 1st, 1981, two days after the robbery of an L.A. nightclub owner, Ed Nash, four people were murdered and one severely injured on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon.  John had helped to orchestrate the robbery that led to the retaliation homicide(s). 

In August 1981, John fled Los Angeles with girlfriend, Dawn Schiller, and was apprehended by police four months later in Florida.  While John was on the lam, the first documentary about his life titled, Exhausted: John C. Holmes, The Real Story, produced and directed by Holmes’ girlfriend, Julia St. Vincent, debuted to a highly successful theatrical release.

In June 1982, John Holmes was acquitted of first degree murder charges but later held in contempt of court for four months for his refusal to divulge to the Supreme Court what he knew about the murders.

In December 1982, John Holmes returned to work in his first post-Wonderland movie titled Marathon.  It was on this set where he met his second wife, nineteen-year old Laurie Rose (aka Misty Dawn).  John would become step-father to Laurie’s young son.

In 1983, John starred in his first gay feature film titled The Private Pleasures of John Holmes.  Three of his co-stars eventually died of AIDS.

In 1985, John, along with friend and business partner Bill Amerson, formulated his own production company, Penguin.  The successful business venture produced several films including The Return of Johnny Wadd (1986) whereby Holmes reprised his role as the private dick.

On February 7th, 1985, John cemented his hand and foot prints in front of the Pussycat Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.  John Holmes was the very first adult film star to be inducted in the XRCO Hall of Fame on February 14th, 1985.

In the fall of 1986, a few months after testing positive for HIV, John appeared in his final two films in Italy: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empress and The Devil in Mr. Holmes.  There are no reports of anyone contracting the virus from Holmes.

John Holmes died of AIDS-related causes on March 13th, 1988, at the Veteran’s hospital on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles.  His obituary was published in the New York Times, the L.A. Times and in other major news publications. 

At the time of his death, John was survived by his widow Laurie and her son; his mother Mary; his four siblings; several nieces and nephews, and also by his three godchildren: Sean, Denise and Shannon Amerson.

During John’s life his many hobbies included sketching, sculpting, writing, gardening, woodworking and fishing.  According to many, John was an expert poker player and he loved the game of Roulette.

Throughout the height of John’s fame, reports of his length while erect ranged from 10 to 14 inches, depending on the day and his level of sexual excitement. 

The precise number of sexual partners throughout John’s life and career is still contested, but it is estimated that the amount of women he slept with ranges between 4-7000.

Combining the total of his loops and features, John Holmes appeared in well over 1000 sexually erotic scenes from 1964 to 1986, and is known as ‘The King’ of adult cinema. 


In 1989, freelance journalist, Mike Sager, wrote the critically acclaimed piece, The Devil and John Holmes, for Rolling Stone Magazine.

In 1998, Holmes’ widow, Laurie Holmes, released John Holmes’ autobiography, Porn King, compiled from audiotapes that John had recorded during the last few years of his life.

Including Exhausted (1981), several documentaries have been made about John Holmes.  Most notable is the award-winning WADD: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes (1998) directed by Cass Paley.  Also popular is The Man, The Myth, The Legend (2004) directed by Mark Novick.  Two Hollywood feature films have been inspired by the life of John Holmes: Boogie Nights (1997) directed by P.T. Anderson and Wonderland (2003) directed by James Cox. 

The first and definitive biography, John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches by Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson was published on August 8th, 2008 by BearManor Media.

* Please check out “Inches” Book Articles and Critic Reviews *

John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches © 2008 Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson. All Rights Reserved.
John Holmes