The Golden Age of Adult Entertainment arrived in 1972 with the release of Deep Throat, starring Linda Lovelace. The film achieved major box office success after it was mentioned on Johnny Carson’s popular show. Despite the low budgets of Deep Throat and subsequent movies, it became obvious that adult films had a huge potential for mainstream success, and thus the Golden Age was born.
After Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), and Behind the Green Door (1973), the industry faced much greater scrutiny. Several municipal anti-obscenity laws helped to greatly reduce the distribution and profit potential of the films. In 1973, the US Supreme Court’s decision in the Miller v. California case narrowed the definition of obscenity, making even less films producible.
In the 1980s, VCR became the primary medium for the diffusion of adult films, and they became even more widely consumed with the introduction of the Internet in the 1990s. Today, adult entertainment accounts for a third of all websites, and there’s practically no escaping it.
Still, the early days of the genre, the 'golden age' of the ‘70s and ‘80s, introduced adult film to a widespread audience, and is still remembered fondly by genre enthusiasts. These are fifteen stars who made the industry what it was; what became of them after the internet took over, and the cameras turned off?
15 Vanessa del Rio
Vanessa del Rio, born Ana Maria Sanchez, is a retired, Afro-Latina adult entertainer. Born in Harlem, New York in 1952, Sanchez was a computer programmer in her 20s, and then a waitress, barmaid, go-go dancer, and finally a hardcore actress. She also worked as a streetwalker and call girl prior to starring in adult films, and has said that she became an actress because “they paid $150 a day, which was exactly my half of the rent.”
Del Rio first appeared in adult films in 1974, making over 100 appearances, including stints in music videos such as Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money.” She retired in 1986, due to the AIDS scare, but returned shortly after, continuing her career until 1999.
Since then, she’s made many special appearances on TV, mostly as herself, including an episode of NYPD Blue in 1996. A biography about her life was released in 2007, and a feature film was slated to begin production in 2013.
14 Christy Canyon
Christy Canyon has appeared in over 120 adult films, with her first performance in 1984‘s Swedish Erotica 57, alongside Ron Jeremy. She was approached by adult actor Greg Rome, who introduced her to recruiter and agent Jim South of World Modeling Agency. She began posing for men’s magazines, before beginning her video career.
She effectively retired three different times, her last in 1999. From 2005 to 2011, she became the co-host of Sirius XM’s Playboy Radio show Night Calls. She also wrote a tell-all autobiography of her life. In 2011, she became co-host of Sirius XM’s Spice Sex Circus, with former star Ginger Lynn. At the end of 2013, she finally got her own show, The Christy Canyon Show, on Vivid Radio.
Canyon concentrates on her adult-oriented website, and sells merchandise on eBay. She also appeared as a judge on the first season of Jenna’s American Sex Star, and was featured in an ABC News Nightline segment titled "Po*n: When the Camera Stops." She is a member of the XRCO (X-Rated Critics Organization) and AVN (Adult Video News) Halls of Fame.
Seka is a popular, retired adult entertainment actress who appeared in films for 16 years, from 1977 to 1993. She started at the age of 23, and performed in 251 films, including twice as a director. In 1977, she worked for Reynolds Metals Company, makers of Reynolds Wrap aluminum, and then as a clerk at an adult bookstore.
In her autobiography she describes her move from the East Coast to Las Vegas, and then Los Angeles, saying, “I had seven adult bookstores in Virginia and Maryland that I owned.” In the backs of the stores were the video machines, and she would watch the films and think, “I can do it better than that. That is how I came into the industry.”
Seka was described by many people as being “a bit above" the adult entertainment industry. From 1997 to 2000, she hosted a radio talk show called Let’s Talk About Sex. She then operated a fan club on her own website, in 2005, and appeared on numerous talk shows, hosted by Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams, Larry King, and more. She also appeared on Saturday Night Live, and was in the 2010 documentary After Po*n Ends. She is both a member of the AVN and XRCO Halls of Fame.
12 Hyapatia Lee
Hyapatia Lee, being one-quarter Cherokee, was the only Native American in the adult business during her starring years. She was one of the most prolific actresses of the Golden Age, appearing in 96 films. She was inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame in 1993, and also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Free Speech Coalition in 1995.
She currently runs a fan club, and is a columnist for the magazine High Times. She’s appeared on The Robin Byrd Show, The Howard Stern Show, and appeared in a minor role in the 1994 thriller, Killing Obsession. She recorded and toured the album Double Euphoric with her band W4lk in 1994. In 2000 she self-published an autobiography. Lee has stated that she suffers from dissociative identity disorder, and has six different personalities.
11 Kitten Natividad
Kitten Natividad, born Francesca Isabel Natividad, is a Mexican-American exotic dancer and retired adult entertainer. During her days, she was noted as being one of the few Mexican-American stars in the industry, and for her 44-inch bust. She appeared in a number of cult films with her partner, Russ Meyer.
Natividad worked as a maid, a cook, and then a key-punch operator at IBM, before go-go dancing. She was shy, giving way to her stage name, and had her first breast implant surgery at the age of 21, in Tijuana. After starring in Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens in 1979, she moved to nude modeling, doing girl-girl shoots.
During the ‘80s, she engaged in hardcore films, and founded a private photo shoot studio, Kitten Klub. She appeared as a stripper in 1985 for Sean Penn, who was celebrating his marriage to Madonna. She then appeared in music videos produced by Prince, and TV game shows. She underwent a double-mastectomy in 1999 for treatment of breast surgery, and then had corrective surgery. She supports herself with sales of her adult videos and phone sex hotlines, and has appeared in films such as Airplane! and Night at the Golden Eagle.
10 Kristine DeBell
Kristine DeBell, from Chatham, New York, began as a fashion model for Ford. She made her acting debut at the age of 22, starring as Alice in the musical Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy, in 1976. Following her stint in the musical, she graced the cover of the April 1976 issue of Playboy, which skyrocketed her fame.
DeBell is one of the few actresses who began in adult entertainment and then transitioned to mainstream film and television with success. Her most prominent roles included her alongside Bill Murray in the comedy film Meatballs, and then beside Jackie Chan in The Big Brawl. Throughout the ‘80s, she appeared in numerous TV pilots and shows, including The Young and the Restless, Night Court, and Barnaby Jones.
9 Gloria Leonard
Gloria Leonard was an adult film actress who began starring in 1974. She also directed eight films, and retired from acting in 1984. She is best known for her role in the pioneering sex film The Opening of Misty Beethoven. After her career in adult entertainment, she became a pioneer in other ways.
In 1977, Leonard served as publisher of the magazine High Society, a position she held for 14 years. She is credited with two successful ideas: the publishing of nude celebrity photos, and phone sex lines. She was one of the first people to use “900 numbers” as a revenue stream. She then appeared in numerous magazine interviews and TV talk shows, also hosting one of her own: The Leonard Report: For Adults Only, and later, Gloria Leonard’s Hot Shopper Hour.
Leonard was a feminist and free speech advocate. In the ‘80s, she debated representatives from the feminist organization Women Against Pornography, against censorship. Leonard suffered a stroke in 2014, and died on February 3, 2014, at the age of 73.
8 Veronica Hart
Veronica Hart performed in over 150 adult films during the ‘80s, under multiple stage names, before becoming an adult film director. She has directed 43 films. In an interview, famed director Paul Thomas Anderson has called her “the Meryl Streep of po*n.” She appeared in adult films from 1980 to 1984, where she was one of the most sought-after stars.
Her production company, VCA, was bought by Hustler in 2003. Hart moved on to other things, such as becoming a tour guide for the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. She has starred in several movies, such as playing a judge in Boogie Nights, and in the Paul Thomas Anderson movie, Magnolia. She also made an appearance in the TV show Six Feet Under.
Since 2014, Hart has been a sex educator in China. She instructs women through a chain of adult retail stores called Sediva Maison. Hart identifies as bisexual.
7 Amber Lynn
Amber Lynn is a famous Lithuanian-Native American model, exotic dancer, and adult actress. Lynn started doing fitness and bikini modeling in the 1980s in LA, and then was featured in magazine spreads for Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, and other popular men’s magazines. Her first hardcore venture came in the film Personal Touch. The production was also her first encounter with freebase cocaine.
Lynn made $32,000 per week at strip clubs, making her the highest paid female performer, and was the first female to open the door for female stars to feature in dance tours. She opposed the “Safer Sex in the Adult-Film Industry” proposal, and contributes to the Youth AIDS Foundation of Los Angeles. Prior to retiring, she starred in over 400 adult films.
She was in the 2010 documentary, After Po*n Ends, and now hosts a weekly talk show, and has a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Free Speech Coalition. She was addicted to alcohol and crack for almost 20 years, and has been clean and sober now for almost 15. She works as a personal recovery assistant, and as a real estate agent.
6 Kay Parker
British star Kay Parker is a former adult film actress famous for her first role in Anthony Spinelli’s 1977 film Sex World, and then for her depictions of incest in the Taboo series, where she seduces her son. Taboo became one of the best-selling adult movies ever, and spawned 22 sequels. Parker starred in the first four, and then as a non-sex character in the ninth sequel.
Because of her success with Taboo, Parker continued her motif into some softcore films and non-sex bits. To the surprise of probably everyone, Parker later worked as a New Age metaphysical counselor and lecturer, and she wrote a novel in 2001 titled Taboo: Sacred, Don’t Touch. She is a member of the AVN and XRCO Halls of Fame.
5 Marilyn Chambers
Marilyn Chambers is a former adult star and film icon from Rhode Island. She was also a model, exotic dancer, mainstream actress, and, surprisingly, a vice-presidential candidate. Her best known work and her film debut came in 1972, in Behind the Green Door, which was one of the three films that initiated the Golden Age.
She has been ranked at number six on the Top 50 Adult Stars of All Time by AVN, and was one of Playboy’s Top 100 Sex Stars of the Century in 1999. Her successful transition to mainstream acting has earned her the title, “the adult industry's most famous crossover.” In 1974 she starred in a Las Vegas theater production of The Mind With the Dirty Man, which ran for 52 weeks, which was the longest-running play in Vegas history at the time. The mayor gave Chambers the key to the city after that.
She earned her first mainstream credit in the 1977 film Rabid, directed by David Cronenberg. She published an autobiography in 1975, and even had a singing career in the '70s and '80s. She returned to adult entertainment in the 1980's, which paid off, with her film Insatiable becoming the top-selling adult film from 1980 to ‘82. She ran in the 2004 and 2008 US presidential elections, first as a libertarian, and then as a write-in Tea Party candidate. She died in 2009 of a cerebral hemorrhage.
4 Georgina Spelvin
Georgina Spelvin, the stage name of Michelle Graham, was one of the best-known stars of the Golden Age. She starred in The Devil in Miss Jones, in 1973, which easily surpassed Deep Throat as the most lucrative adult film to date, and was one of the three movies that launched the Golden Age.
Spelvin began her career as a chorus girl, and then on Broadway in the productions of Guys and Dolls, Sweet Charity, and The Pajama Game. Her first movie, a softcore lesbian film called The Twilight Girls, was released in 1957. After The Devil in Miss Jones, she went on to appear in over 70 adult films before retiring in 1982.
Spelvin made cameos in the Police Academy series of films, as well as Next Year in Jerusalem, and on TV shows Dream On and The Lost World. In 1973, Robert Berkvist of The New York Times stated that she epitomized the Golden Age.
She went into desktop publishing until 2004, working for the Los Angeles Times. She appeared in a music video in 2009, and she published an autobiography, The Devil Made Me Do It, in 2008.
3 Nina Hartley
Nina Hartley was one of the most prolific adult actresses during her time, starring in over 1,000 roles, and directing 18. She began as a stripper during her sophomore year of nursing school, and then made her way into hardcore films a year later, debuting in the film Educating Nina. She was noted for her big, blue eyes, and her big butt and small waist.
Hartley is a self-acclaimed liberal and sex-positive feminist. She has addressed audiences saying, “Sex isn’t something men do to you. It isn’t something men get out of you, it is something you dive into with gusto and like every bit as much as he does.” Before Jenna Jameson’s rise to fame, Hartley was typically the expert that TV programs sought when discussing the right for adult films to exist. Hartley has spoken out against illegal drugs in the industry.
She had a role in the 1997 film Boogie Nights, and in the 1996 film Bubbles Galore. She appears active in the industry today, and also has a line of instructional sex videos. She is openly bisexual, and has described herself as a “neo-pagan, with a Buddhist trait.”
2 Traci Lords
Traci Lords is a multi-talented actress, singer, model, writer, producer, and director. She first gained fame from her underage appearances in adult films when she landed a job as a nude model at 15 years old. She was featured in 1984 in Penthouse, and then starred in dozens of films between 1984 and '86. Throughout the '80s, she was one of the most sought-after adult actresses.
Authorities discovered that Lords had been underage in all but one of her films, and they were ordered to remove her material, costing millions and becoming one of the biggest adult film scandals in history. She then left the industry and studied method acting. She starred in many mainstream TV shows, such as MacGyver, Married... with Children, Roseanne, Melrose Place, Gilmore Girls, and Will & Grace, among others.
She also starred in films such as Blade, Devil May Call, and Zack and Miri Make a P*rno. She pursued a music career in the '90s. Her 2003 autobiography, Traci Lords: Underneath It All, made the New York Times Best Seller list.
1 Ron Jeremy
Ron Jeremy was ranked by AVN as the #1 adult entertainer of all time, and he’s certainly one of the most transparent. He’s appeared in non-adult films, such as The Chase, Boondock Saints, Crank: High Voltage, Detroit Rock City, and more, but his claim to fame comes from his adult films. A 2001 documentary about him was directed by Scott J. Gill.
Jeremy taught special-education classes in New York before leaving teaching to pursue acting. He posed for Playgirl after his then-girlfriend submitted a photo of him, and the rest is history. His nickname, “The Hedgehog”was given to him in 1979, after an event involving hypothermia, a hot shower, and the hairs on his body standing on end.
Jeremy has been involved as a “special consultant” and actor in numerous films, as well as TV shows. He’s appeared in music videos from over 20 bands, in ads by PETA (where his ad poked fun at himself, saying, “Too much sex can be a bad thing. Spay and neuter your cats and dogs). He’s made public speaking appearances at Oxford Union, has had debates with Pastors about skin flicks, and is the spokesperson for HotMovies.com, and the co-owner of a swingers' nightclub in Oregon.