Gay Porn Superstar Erik Rhodes Dies in New York, Age 30
If everyone is a "star" in the porn industry, there are still a few genuine superstars. Among gay porn players, there have been very few in recent years hotter, physically and status-wise, than Falcon Studio’s exclusive Erik Rhodes. In a posting to Rhodes’ own Twitter account, there was a brief statement that, at 5:30 a.m. June 14, Rhodes, 30 at the time of his death, was found dead in New York City, the apparent victim of a heart attack.
Born James Elliot in the suburban landscape of Long Island east of the city, Rhodes had only recently celebrated his 30th birthday. Although he apparently died in his sleep, the exact circumstances surrounding his death remain unknown as of this writing.
Headlining in such titles as "The Farmer’s Son," "Beefcake," "Ivy League," "Asylum," "Afterparty," "The Pledge Masters," "The Velvet Mafia" and "Best Men," Rhodes’ appearances were distinguished not only by his muscular bodybuilder’s physique and handsome features, but also by his humor, sexual range, undisputed acting talent and keen professionalism.
Zach Sire, the editor of NakedSword’s widely followed adult industry blog The Sword, called Rhodes one the greats, "not only a gay porn star: he was a legend." Commenting on Rhodes’ widely-followed Tumblr blog with a title that, in retrospect, seems prophetic, "Erik Rhodes: A Romance With Misery," Sire posthumously wrote, "He loved what he did, even as his public persona detailed his love/hate relationship with the industry. He was perfect -- the complete package -- a true star and a great performer -- with a notorious flair for headlines for personal drama."
"I’m still surprised," Sire said. "Even covering him as I have for the last four years, it is still terrible shock. It means something bigger for the industry too. He was one of the last true stars. It’s a great loss."
A Troubled Man’s Public Honesty
Unlike many others who preceded him into an early death, Rhodes made no effort to hide his struggles with his personal demons. Using interviews, his Tumblr blog and a personal blog, Portrait of an American Porn Star: James/Erik: Underneath It All, Rhodes publicly recounted the personal toll his career in adult films was taking on him.
"My name is James," Rhodes had once written. "I have worked in the adult entertainment industry for the last seven years of my life under the name Erik Rhodes. I’m not sure how I ended up here, and I don’t know how i have survived this long. All i do know is that it can be a very lonely place and sometimes i need a blog to get shit off my chest."
His final entry, posted on June 9, was in response to a fan’s questions about his steroid cycle. The answer was shocking: "My cycle right now...3000 mg of Test Enanthate a week, 2500 mg of Nandrolone Decaonate and 300 mg of Trenbolone Acetate. With 5iu of Human Growth Hormone everyday. I’m waiting until i pop. Or my liver to (sic) fails... which every (sic) comes first." Even for a professional bodybuilder, pumping such an extraordinary amount of anabolic steroids would be considered extraordinary.
Rhodes also posted multiple entries over the years on his problems with drugs, alcohol, and depression. In one 2010 entry, Rhodes wrote, "Tuesday night... high on pills, out till 4am. Then basically the rest of the week. I’m not sure how we make it home most nights. I tend to only remember the parts where i have force myself to snap out of letting the pills steal my soul. The part where you just feel like your sinking... and if you don’t snap yourself out of it you would just melt away into the floor."
When a fan recently inquired online if he was going to Fire Island that weekend, Rhodes responded, "I’ll be in Chicago... Lets see if i can hang onto my sobriety..."
Multi-award winning producer-director John Rutherford, President and Creative Director of The COLT Studio Group, also commented to EDGE.
"Erik was a great guy," John Rutherford, president and creative director of Colt Studio Group, told EDGE. "It saddens me to think about his struggles. At 30 years old I only wish that Erik would have been able to look back on his career in his old age as most of us will. He will be admired by all his fans and missed deeply by his peers."
Bloggers were quick to respond with an outpouring of shock and grief. On Rhodes’ blog, sample comments read: "Sorry, Erik. Hope you find the peace you deserved here on earth. I wish you would’ve enjoyed life a lil"; "Hope you’ve found eternal peace"; "You were ****ed up in the head thats for sure, but I LOVED your work. Shame, mate. RIP."
Rhodes began his career at the age of 22 with an exclusive contract with Falcon Studios in 2004. He later moved into directing, with eight Mustang Studios titles to his credit. Most recently, he had begun filming with Falcon after its 2011 merger with Raging Stallions Studios. Rhodes’ videography includes over 40 scenes and dozens of titles.
"We at Paper were incredibly saddened to learn of the death of our friend, adult-film star Erik Rhodes, who apparently died in his sleep last night," wrote Mickey Boardman, editorial director at Papermag.com, the website of the trendy art and entertainment magazine. "The 30-year-old Long Island-native was a truly hilarious and larger-than-life character as well-known for his wicked sense of humor as he was for his enormous muscles. Rhodes was a legend in the gay adult film world....famously appearing in an ad for [the Men’s Department of clothing discounter chain] Loehman’s, and in the front row at the Marc Jacobs fashion show. We’ll cherish his hilarious stories that didn’t make it to print -- including the one of him losing his virginity at a Mexican restaurant in a strip mall and being served a burrito lunch on the set of his adult film debut."
Adam Q. Robinson of Falcon Studios released a Twitter statement, "It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Erik Rhodes this morning. Erik died of a heart attack in his sleep. Erik has been an amazing friend & part of the Falcon family for 8 years, a man of steel on the outside but all teddy bear on the inside."
A press release from Falcon Studios offered condolences to Rhodes’ family and friends and called him "a genuine and caring man with extraordinary attractiveness and a massive muscled frame." The studio release praised Rhodes as "an equally beautiful human being who lit up a room, and brought fun and joy to our studio and his fans that was unparalleled ... a giving person with a special wit."
Whatever his personal problems, Rhodes apparently never allowed them to affect his performance. "He put his all into every performance," according to Falcon. "He wanted to give his fans the best he could every single time he stepped in front of the camera."
In 2008, Rhodes described himself as 6 feet tall and weighing 230 pounds. "I enjoy the gym," he wrote, "stealing music, movies and diner food. I have one brother, Jon, two sisters Danielle and Michelle, and two parents, Jim and Sue."
He described himself as "completely insecure ... a long-term relationship guy. I have goals and i am determined to achieve success and happiness in this lifetime. I will always win." In the Twitter posting of his death, a boyfriend named Riccardo is mentioned.
In a sense, Rhodes wrote his own obituary when he wrote in his blog, "I guess it is kind of funny when you look at it from a step back. How one man can literally buckle under the same pressures other men operate normally under. I have soaked this out from all angles, walking through time I have been over everything in my head, still I can’t think anymore. But I guess some times, when you can’t breathe, there are people there to breathe for you. I am lucky enough to have those people around me. Thank you for helping me to not die."
But he did die. In the middle of Rhodes’ self-description on his blog, he inserted a phrase that, in retrospect, seems sadly self-revelatory: "In January of 2008, I went crazy."
Rhodes’ death will no doubt set off another round of self-introspection and outside criticism of the gay porn industry. The roster of stars that died young is depressingly long, including such legends as Joey Stefano and Steve Fox. In February, Roman Ragazzi, the nom de porn of Dror Barak, committed suicide in New York.
It should be noted that this is hardly a problem only in gay porn. A memorial on YouTube lists the many female porn actors who have committed suicide.
But such an early death of a star of Rhodes’ stature is bound to become ammunition for those who see porn as exploitative and sleazy. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the ever-more-bizarre erstwhile gay porn actor in Montreal who apparently killed a man, dismembered him, partly ate him and sent body parts to politicians, Rhodes’ death only adds to an industry already suffering the woes of an entire film industry facing contraction from competing media and digital downloads.
"It is a terrible tragedy when a 30-year-old man dies," porn studio head and producer-director Michael Lucas told EDGE. "It is a shame that there was no one to save him from himself."