Thursday, June 14, 2012

The End Of The Rhodes

Erik Rhodes passed away this morning and whenever someone dies, you reflect back on their life and what you knew of them. To millions of people he was a larger than life porn star, a bull in a sex shop, but I saw through all that to my friend James, a kid from Long Island, consumed by the life around him.

Whenever I think about life, I think about my favorite line from Gattaca, near the end when Ethan Hawke and his genetically superior brother (played by Loren Dean) are swimming out in the middle of a stormy ocean, and Ethan is beating him handily. When Loren asks him how he is able to do that, he replies, "I never saved anything for the swim back." Erik Rhodes was so much like that character, built up as this stronger than life facade and leaving nothing for the swim back.

But when I think more personally about James, who battled drugs and depression, I am reminded of Carrie Fisher's alter ego in "Postcards From The Edge." A single line in the looping scene from that film seems to contain an even better summation of his internal struggle:

"The trouble is: I can't feel my life. I can't feel it. I see it all around me and I know that so much of it is good but I just take it the wrong way."

James was very open about his drug use: GHB, steroids, and more recently (and sadly) meth. His last post on Tumblr four days before he died contained his recipe for physical success, with the ominous caveat "I'm waiting until I pop. Or my liver fails... [whichever] comes first." He was so like the figures of Greek mythology that he physically embodied, always tempting fate, always flying too close to the sun. But like those fables of old, he knew he was a cautionary tale, not a design for living. 

I asked him once what his future plans were after porn had run its course. He used to say, "Once they have seen your pussy, what else do you have?" He knew it wasn't a career with a lot of longevity, and yet, he didn't see himself in any other kind of job. Most performers like him go into real estate or personal training, arenas where their past can be an asset in attracting clients, but his response to that notion was typical James: "Can you imagine me trying to put up with those assholes?" 

He tried his hand for a time at bartending, but that was mostly a disaster. But recently, he had started directing and that was something he seemed to genuinely enjoy, although I don't know how enthusiastic the models were. James explained that when the scene was going he would stop it and tell the models if they looked fat or ugly and to then re-position them in a more flattering way. I don't know how anyone would feel being naked and exposed and having someone tell them they look fat, but he was an imposing figure so I assume they just sucked it up. James was typically sanguine about the whole thing, "A movie lasts forever. If I looked like a fat bag of shit, I would want someone to tell me!"

But in his soul, James was a writer. He got a lot of flak for his erratic blogs, filled with horrible sex stories, blatant drug use, and nasty rejoinders. But it was the truth. You could call him a lot of things, but a liar was never one of them. I begged him to assemble his stories into a one-man show and tour with it. I thought it could be a huge success. But he never had the discipline for that, and I suspect the confidence in his own abilities. The world treated him like a giant walking fuck doll and he alternated between being angry or miserable about it and living the part. 

Of all the people in the world, he reminded me the most of Marilyn Monroe. On the inside he was all small town Norma Jean Baker, but on the outside, he was larger than life, sex writ large. Like Marilyn he could have turned away from his public persona at any time, but he chose to ride it out to its inevitable end. He knew that the monster he created was too big to control and he was filled with the kind of sadness that often comes with excess. Too much of a good thing, as they say.

He has a straight twin brother and when I saw him, I suspected that he is what James would have been if the mythical Erik Rhodes hadn't been born. He was handsome, but slight compared to Erik. I want to think I always saw the James inside and not the more dominant Erik exterior but in retrospect I am not so sure. Last summer, I asked him to be a model for the cover of my latest book, When Nightlife Falls. I wanted him to pose so that he looked naked while holding a man collapsing in his arms. 

James worked out tirelessly, starved and tanned himself to look his absolute best for the photos and he really does. We shot the vision I had but it didn't click the way a more improvised shot of him dragging the other model across the floor did, which we ended up using for the cover. My original idea came out beautifully though and I look at it now and it haunts me with its sadness. 


When the shoot was over, I paid the photographer and the other model, but when I tried to give James a check he adamantly refused. He told me he did the shoot as a friend. But in my mind, he had already guest hosted on the show so many times for little more than a terrible meal afterward. He was a model and I didn't want to insult his profession by asking for a freebie. But now I realize he just didn't want to be the whore that everyone expected him to be and me paying him off reduced his kindness to the same muck as all the rest.

I never judged him, but like all of us at one time or another, I misjudged him. And that is my biggest regret. 

1982 -2012 

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

He was the best cohost ever. I will miss him terribly. Total tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I have a feeling Erik would tell you off for this....but James would have loved you for what you said.

R. Watkins said...

What a wonderful essay Derek for such a sad moment in time. I read Erik's blog religously - sometimes wondering if all of what he wrote could actually happen to one person. I remember once when he was on your show talking about a movie shoot and how this one guy came to the set stoned. I laughed so hard I had to pull the car over before I had a wreck. I always hate to hear when one so young dies but it has been happening alot in the porn arena lately.

Andrea Cartwright said...

That was lovely.

Jason Warner said...

Beautifully written, Derek.

Anonymous said...

That was lovely.

Anonymous said...

RIP James. :-(

Chris H. said...

Derek,
What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful (if troubled) soul. I listen to the show daily, and always enjoyed the visits and guest-hostings from Erik. He will be missed - by the public as the larger-than-life sex god, Erik Rhodes, and by his friends and family as the all-too-human James. Thank you for this.

An-d said...

A moving epitaph of wounded soul. Well done.

Mark said...

A beautiful tribute to your friend, Derek. I am so sad today.

Mark said...

A beautiful tribute to your friend, Derek. I enjoyed it a lot when he was on your show.

SO sad today.

An-d said...

A moving epitaph of a wounded soul. Well done.

Tracy Muirhead said...

My sincere sympathy for the passing of Erik... I know he will truly be missed by some. I always enjoyed hearing him co host with you on the show...

Alfred T. DeVore said...

Beautifully, eloquently and caringly put -- with a lot of love and respect for your friend. I felt pride reading your words. You're a good friend and those lucky enough to REALLY make it in to your "circle" are truly blessed. Truly blessed. Thank you for taking the time to share your innermost thoughts...../Alf

Clambot said...

Beautiful goodbye Derek. I'm glad the Show introduced us to him, otherwise I myself would have never known of him. His fragility was all-to-apparent, and I recall his attitude always tugged at my heart a bit. You were a good friend to him; seeing clearly through his tough exterior into his soft soul. In that, I know you will find peace within the tragedy.

Tracy Muirhead said...

my deepest sympathy goes out on the passing of Erik....I always enjoyed listening to him co host the show with you

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Derek and warmly felt. I did not know him personally but through your words I feel the sadness that you are feeling. Elegantly put Derek.......may he rest in that much deserved peace.

Daniel Kusner said...

this is really cool.

Ethan Edward said...

Wow great post

MileHighJoe said...

Pitch-perfect, Derek.

Anonymous said...

Love the tribute. Respectful and Fitting.

kellie said...

Thank you Derek. Your words are beautiful!

kellie said...

Thank you for sharing on your friend. You ar a beautiful a writer and have left a great gift to his family with your writing. It is sad he found it hard to find his place in the world but it is wonderful he found you.
Kellie Gibson
Laurel, MT.

Dee said...

What a lovely way to remember you friend. Thank you for sharing.

John Carpenter said...

RIP Erik Rhodes! So sad to hear, and such a terrible loss. Sending prayers to his family, friends, and anyone else that shared a life with Erik, including you Derek!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. He was always fab on the show, and I loved him because he sounded and acted just like one of my old boyfriends, only more charming. Tonight I turned on the show during a clip and was excited that he was calling in. When the clip ended and you repeated the sad news for those of us just tuning in, I was heartbroken all over again.

Ariel said...

what a great tribute to your friend

Anonymous said...

That was a lovely sentiment, Derek

Eric Renner said...

Thank you for sharing this account of James' life from your personal perspective. It allows us a glimpse into his life that many will (sadly) never know. Very much appreciated -- thanks.

Vulcan said...

This was as beautiful and as haunting as your writing about your dad passing. You have given the world a wonderful eulogy for a one of a kind friend. We must always remember that James had a bad case of biological depression ( which is often hard to treat with meds) and many of his choices in life were probably a reaction to that pit of despair. I used to have it and I know how hopeless it makes you feel. It is nice to know he got some personal satisfaction in directing towards the end of his life. I'm sending you a hug Derek. John in Seattle

ron said...

That was truly beautiful Derek.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful tribute to a person who will be missed by many RIP

Anonymous said...

Very beautifully written. We have been a long time listeners of DnR and, always loved when Erik was around. He was one of the good ones and will be missed by many I am sure.

Steph'n and Dean

Michael said...

Very hart felt, he will b missed!

PebbleBeach said...

Like many others, I, too, very much enjoyed when he was on the show. You could tell he was a sensitive guy deep down and I liked hearing that side of him. This was a beautiful tribute to him. Thanks for writing it.

Mike said...

Thanks for sharing such a lovely post. I'm so sad to hear the tragic news. Rest in peace, James...

Boyhous said...

RIP Erik..wherever you are now I hope its a happy place for you. you are missed so much already buddy

Anonymous said...

As I heard the news about Eric on the frank show I immediately thought about Derek. They always seemed to have such fun on the show, Eric being Eric and well Derek being Derek! I will miss those shows. As I go through a very troubling time in my own life, I often wonder what the other side brings! Well Eric If are reading these, Give them hell and never change. Being a 50 year old man Thatis the one thing i admired about Eric he spoke his mind. You will be missed! Great article Derek!!!

Jon said...

What a beautiful and heartwarming tribute to a friend. Thank you Derek for reminding all of us, especially in the LGBT community, not to judge anyone too quickly. If we look a little deeper kindness and LOVE can be seen in most people we meet in life.

natalie fox said...

Derek, you have the great ability to communicate the beauty of a person but remain truthful about who they really were. So often, people feel the need to romanticize another who has passed. What really shows respect is when you be honest about one's flaws, but also show the beauty within. I hope you're healing starts soon from this loss. -Natalie Fox, fb friend :)

Edward in WeHo said...

Derek was a guy I knew from working out at David Barton gym. He was a sweet heart of a guy surrounded by terrible friends. I know that had I stayed in NYC I would have gotten to know him better. Drugs aside, his dedication to his body was an inspiration to me. Tonight I say a little prayer for him and his brother. I have a feeling he'll be one of the door bouncers in heaven. Xoxo

Anonymous said...

Never seen his video, Only listened to him on your show. I loved him for what he was. I wish he could have gotten some help. I've never hurt so bad for someone I didn't know. James rest in peace.

Daniel

bergamote said...

Mourir à 30 ans , quelle tristesse .

Au revoir James.

Gabriel Hunter Deckard said...

A beautiful man gone way to soon. So much potential and yet so many demons. RIP.
@yvangabriel

guillermo said...

loving!!

i'll miss you, james.

now you are in pace, but i still feel sorry, i think you deserved happiness in life

Anonymous said...

Sono terribilmente triste x questo bel ragazzo! Questa notizia mi ha lasciato così triste, Vai in pace James e sii felice lassù! Un forte abbraccio anche dall italia

Anonymous said...

What a great way to show James' human side. Too often we focus on a persona that is revealed to us when someone is working for living (be it an actor or a radio host) but don't often get to see and know the real person. I'm glad you were able to share some of his real life with us. Keep up the great work, Derek!

Richard Bijster said...

Many thanks for a well written article.

More than 2 weeks have passed since James' death. It's odd, I never knew James, nor did I follow his career, yet I find myself thinking about James, the individual who was separate from Erik Rhodes, every day. From all the articles I've read on the internet, I find it astonishing that no serious hand of help seems to have been stretched out to him. A hand which he could have grasped on to tightly and trust enough to help him overcome his personal inner battles with drugs, depression and guilt.

It's a tragedy that James was trying so hard to sort himself out publicly, yet constantly received mainly nothing but scathing criticism and ridicule from our so-called 'community'. What a shallow and hypocritical 'community' we have built for ourselves when an individual, who was so obviously shouting for help, receives nothing but criticism and ridicule. At a time when James needed that help the most, many were not willing, or capable, of getting past his Erik Rhodes alter ego and recognise an individual human being in a lot of pain and in need of help and support. We really should be ashamed, where has our humanity gone?

James was looking for answers to many of life's questions, yet none ever seemed to be forthcoming. Perhaps if James had received the help, support and humanity he was crying out for he may have got answers to some of the questions he was asking. Unfortunately, we will now never know.

Rest in peace James, you've made me look at lot of things in detail since your untimely death and I thank you for allowing me do that.

Steve said...

I am so shocked and sad in hearing this news on Erik, I really loved to listen to him on your show. He was so honest and funny.

Jon Naughtin said...

Thank you - Jon

Anonymous said...

I don't live in US, and I just found out about his death. So sorry to hear that :(

Though, he's a great actor for me
And just looked on his life, it makes me want to stay away from porn since it has done a terrible thing to me, too, just as an audience

RIP James