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John C. Holmes
Holmes as Joe Murray in Prisoner of Paradise (1980)
Holmes as Joe Murray in Prisoner of Paradise (1980)
Born John Curtis Estes
(1944-08-08)August 8, 1944
Ashville, Ohio, U.S.
Died March 13, 1988(1988-03-13) (aged 43)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death cardiorespiratory arrest and encephalitis due to AIDS, associated with lymphadenopathy and esophageal candidiasis[1]
Nationality American
Other names John Duval, John Estes, Big John Fallus, Big John Holmes, John C. Holmes, John Curtis Holmes, Johnny Holmes, Bigg John, Big John, John Rey, Johnny Wadd, John Sacre, Long John Wadd, Johnny B. Wadd, Johnny the Wad, John C. Wadd, The Duke of Wadd, John Foot Long, Wadzilla, King Wadd, Wizard of Wadd, The Sultan of Smut[2]
Occupation Pornographic film actor
Years active 1967–1988
Height 6 ft 1 in
Weight 145 lb

John Curtis Holmes (August 8, 1944 – March 13, 1988), better known as John C. Holmes or Johnny Wadd (after the lead character he portrayed in a series of related films), was one of the most prolific male pornographic film actors of all time, with documented credit for at least 537 films.[3]

Holmes was best known for his exceptionally large penis, which was heavily promoted as the longest, thickest and hardest in the porn industry, although no documented measurement of Holmes' actual penis length, girth or tumescence has ever been confirmed.[4] Near the end of his life, Holmes attained notoriety for his reputed involvement in the Wonderland murders of July 1981 and eventually for his death from complications caused by AIDS in March 1988. Holmes was the subject of several books, a lengthy essay in Rolling Stone and two feature-length documentaries, and was the inspiration for two Hollywood movies (Boogie Nights and Wonderland).

Early life[]

Holmes was born John Curtis Estes on August 8, 1944, in the small rural town of Ashville, Ohio, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Columbus. He was the youngest of four children born to 26-year-old Mary June (Barton) Holmes, but the father's name, Carl Estes, a railroad worker, is left blank on his birth certificate. Mary Barton had married Edgar Harvey Holmes, who was the father of her three older children - Dale, Edward and Anne. She and Holmes were married and divorced three times, as is documented by wedding certificates dated April 13, 1936, August 13, 1945, and September 12, 1947.[5] At the time of their first marriage in 1936, Edgar Harvey Holmes was 35 years old and divorced, while Mary Barton was 17.[6] After divorcing for the third and final time, Edgar and Mary each married one more time.[7]

Mary changed John's surname to Holmes when he was a child. In 1986, when Holmes applied for a United States passport for the first time prior to a trip to Italy, his mother reportedly provided him with the handwritten copy of his original birth certificate, Holmes learned his biological father was Carl Estes.

Holmes' mother was said to be a devout Southern Baptist and with her children regularly attended the Millport Chapel Church, where he had perfect attendance. In contrast, his stepfather Edgar was an alcoholic who would come home inebriated, stumble about the house and even vomit on the children. As a child, Holmes enjoyed a reprieve from his turbulent home life when he visited his maternal grandparents, John W. and Bessie (née Gillenwater) Barton.[6]

Mary divorced Edward when Holmes was three or four and moved with her children to Columbus, Ohio, where they lived in a low-income apartment project with a friend of Mary's and her own two children. The two women worked as clerks and waitresses in order to support their young children.

When Holmes was eight, his mother married Harold Bowman on December 31, 1951. Shortly afterward, Holmes and his family moved from Columbus and settled in the small town of Pataskala, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Columbus. Holmes recalled that Bowman was a good father until Holmes' younger half-brother David was born, at which point Bowman reportedly lost interest in his stepchildren and began neglecting them.[8][9]

Holmes left home at age 16 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, with his mother's written permission. He spent most of the three years of his military service in West Germany in the Signal Corps.[9] Upon his honorable discharge in 1963, Holmes moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in a variety of jobs, including selling goods door-to-door and tending the vats at a Coffee-Nips factory. During his stint as an ambulance driver, Holmes met a nurse named Sharon Gebenini in December 1964. They married in August 1965 after Holmes turned 21.[10]

In April 1965, Holmes found work as a forklift driver at a meatpacking warehouse in nearby Cudahy, California. However, repeated exposure to the freezing air in the large walk-in freezer after being outside inhaling the desert-hot air caused him severe health problems, leading to a pneumothorax of his right lung on three separate occasions during the two years he worked there.[10]

Sharon had health problems too, as during the first 17 months of her marriage to Holmes, she miscarried three times.[11]



"John Holmes was to the adult film industry what Elvis Presley was to rock 'n' roll. He simply was The King".

—Cinematographer Bob Vosse in the documentary Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes.

Determining the number of films Holmes made during the early part of his career is difficult, because the ad copy rarely named him. Copy that did usually used entirely inconsistent names. For example, one early "Swedish Erotica" brochure from 1973 has five loops featuring Holmes, each citing a different name.[citation needed]

In 1971, Holmes' career began to take off with a porn series built around a private investigator named Johnny Wadd, written and directed by Bob Chinn. The success of the film Johnny Wadd created an immediate demand for more Johnny Wadd films, so Chinn followed up the same year with Flesh of the Lotus. Most of the subsequent Johnny Wadd films were written and directed by Chinn and produced by the Los Angeles-based company Freeway Films.

With the success of Deep Throat (1972), Behind the Green Door (1972) and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), porn became chic, although its legality was still hotly contested. Holmes was arrested during this time for pimping and pandering, but he avoided prison time by reputedly becoming an informant for the LAPD.[12]

By 1978, Holmes was alleged to be earning as much as $3,000 per day as a porn performer.[8][12] Around this time, his consumption of cocaine and freebasing were becoming an increasingly serious problem. Professionally, it affected his ability to maintain an erection, as is apparent from his flaccid performance in Insatiable (1980). To support himself and his drug habit, Holmes ventured into crime, selling drugs for gangs, prostituting himself to both men and women, as well as committing credit card fraud and various acts of petty theft.

In 1976, he met 15-year-old Dawn Schiller, who became his girlfriend. After Holmes became desperate for money, he forced her into prostitution and often beat her, which he did at least once in public.[13][14][15]

Number and gender of partners[]

In the 1981 feature documentary Exhausted, John C. Holmes, The Real Story, which was made about his life and career by director and confidante Julia St. Vincent, Holmes claimed during an interview segment that he had intercourse with 14,000 women.[12] The number had in fact been invented by Holmes to help salvage his waning image.[8] Holmes later joked to psychologist Vonda L. Pelto, Ph.D. who had counseled Holmes in 1982 and other inmates during her employment at L.A. County jail, that he was exaggerating the number — which was actually 13,895.[citation needed]

The true number of women (and men) with whom Holmes had sex during his career would never be known. After his death, his ex-wife Sharon claimed to have come across a footlocker plated in 24k gold leaf, which contained photographic references to Holmes' "private work", and which she burned.[16]

His performances included at least one homosexual feature film, The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes,[1] and a handful of loops which contained anal sex.

Drugs and the Wonderland murders[]

In late 1980, a mutual friend introduced Holmes to Chris Coxx, who owned the Odyssey nightclub. In turn, Coxx introduced Holmes to Eddie Nash, a drug dealer who owned multiple nightclubs, including the Starwood Nightclub in West Hollywood.[17] At the same time, Holmes was closely associated with the Wonderland Gang, a group of heroin-addicted cocaine dealers, so called for the location of their hangout: a rowhouse located on Wonderland Avenue in the wooded Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. Holmes frequently sold drugs for the gang.

After stealing money during a couple of drug runs[citation needed] as well as using more than his share of the gang's drugs,[18] Holmes was in trouble with the gang. In June 1981, allegedly in exchange for his life,[citation needed] he told the gang's leaders (Lind and Ron Launius) about a large stash of drugs, money and jewelry Nash had in his house. Holmes helped to set up a robbery that was committed on the morning of June 29, 1981: a scenario that was represented in the films Boogie Nights and Wonderland.

Although Holmes was not present during the robbery, Nash apparently suspected Holmes had a part in it. After forcing Holmes to confess to his participation and threatening his life and those of Holmes' family, Nash dispatched enforcers and Holmes to exact revenge against the Wonderland Gang. In the early hours of July 1, 1981, four of the gang's members were found murdered and a fifth severely battered and near death in their rowhouse. Holmes was allegedly present during the murders and left a left palm print (not "bloody" as Los Angeles media outlets covering the story erroneously reported) over one victim's headboard, but it is unclear whether he participated in the killings.

Holmes was questioned regarding the murders in July 1981, but he was released due to lack of evidence. He refused to cooperate with the investigation and, after spending nearly five months on the run with Dawn Schiller, Holmes was arrested in Florida on December 4, 1981, by former LAPD homicide detectives Tom Lange and Frank Tomlinson, and extradited to Los Angeles. In March 1982, Holmes was charged with personally committing all four murders. After a three-week publicized trial, Holmes was acquitted on June 26, 1982, of all charges except contempt of court.[19] The Holmes Murder Trial was a landmark in American jurisprudence, as it was the first murder trial in America where videotape was introduced as evidence.[20]

Later life and death[]

After his release from L.A. County Jail for contempt of court in November 1982, Holmes quickly resumed his career in porn with a new generation of pornstars. His drug addiction continued off-and-on and, although work was still plentiful, it was no longer as lucrative as it had been, given the explosion in the use of cheaply made videotapes that saturated the porn market. Most of the feature porn films and videos he made during the 1980s were little more than cameo appearances.

In February 1986, five or six months after testing negative for the virus, Holmes was diagnosed as HIV positive. According to his second wife Laurie Holmes, he claimed that he never used hypodermic needles and that he was deathly afraid of them. His first wife Sharon Gebenini and friend/former colleague Bill Amerson separately confirmed later that Holmes could not have contracted HIV from intravenous drug use, because he never used needles.[8]

During the summer of 1986, Holmes was offered a lucrative deal from Paradise Visuals, which was unaware he was HIV-positive, to travel to Italy to film (what were to be his last) two pornographic films. Holmes' penultimate film was The Rise of the Roman Empress (originally released in Italy as Carne bollente) for director Riccardo Schicchi. The film starred Holmes, the later Italian Parliament member Ilona "Cicciolina" Staller, Tracey Adams, Christoph Clark and Amber Lynn.[21] His final film was The Devil In Mr. Holmes, starring Tracey Adams, Amber Lynn, Karin Schubert and Marina Hedman.[22] These last films created a furor when it was revealed later that Holmes had consciously chosen not to reveal his HIV status to his co-stars before engaging in unprotected sex for the filming.[21][23][24][25] Not wanting to reveal the true nature of his failing health, Holmes claimed to the press that he was suffering from colon cancer.[18]

Holmes married Laurie Rose on January 23, 1987, in Las Vegas, after confiding to her that he had AIDS.[26]

During the last five months of his life, Holmes remained in the VA hospital on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles. He died from AIDS-related complications (according to his death certificate, cardiorespiratory arrest and encephalitis due to AIDS, associated with lymphadenopathy and esophageal candidiasis) on March 13, 1988, aged 43.[1] His body was cremated, and his widow Laurie and mother Mary scattered his ashes at sea, off the coast of Oxnard, California.[27]

Personal life[]

Significant others[]

  • In August 1965, Holmes married a young nurse named Sharon Ann Gebenini at Fort Ord, California.[10] Their divorce was finalized on January 17, 1983.[citation needed]
  • In 1975, he met Julia St. Vincent on the set of his film, Liquid Lips, which was being produced by her uncle Armand Atamian. Holmes and St. Vincent remained close until 1981 and the Wonderland murders. St. Vincent produced the ersatz biographical film of Holmes' life, Exhausted (1981).[28]
  • In 1976, Holmes (then 32 years old) met, courted and ultimately began a sexual relationship with 15-year-old Dawn Schiller.[29] After descending into severe drug abuse, he beat and prostituted Schiller, who in December 1981, while they were in Florida fleeing law enforcement following the Wonderland murders, broke free and was persuaded by her brother Wayne to turn Holmes in to the authorities. In her memoir, The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes (2009), Schiller also described her and her sister Terry's observations that John was a voyeur, who looked through their bungalow windows in Glendale, California as well as strangers' hotel room windows at the Biltmore, Palm Springs.[30]
  • In 1982, Holmes met his second wife Laurie Rose and they married in January 1987,[31] which made Holmes stepfather to Rose's young son.[32]

Charitable work[]

Despite the notoriety and infamy associated with Holmes, he devoted significant time to charities involving the environment. He was involved with Greenpeace[33] and was known to campaign and collect door-to-door for charities such as Save the Whales[31] and Save the Seals.[34]


Holmes enjoyed clay sculpting, woodworking, and outdoor activities such as visiting beaches, camping, fishing, and hiking.[11][34][35]

Holmes was uncircumcised.

Penis size[]

Holmes' main asset in the porn business was his exceptionally large penis. No definitive measurement or documentation verifying his penis' length or girth exists, leaving its exact size unknown.

Veteran porn actress Dorothiea "Seka" Patton has said that Holmes' penis was the biggest in the industry[36] and in the documentary film Exhausted she described oral sex with Holmes as similar to fellating a telephone pole.[37] Holmes' first wife recalled his claiming to be 10 inches (25.4 cm) when he first measured himself.[38] On another occasion, Holmes once claimed his penis was 16 inches (40.6 cm) long and 13 inches (33.0 cm) in circumference.[38] Holmes' long-time friend and industry associate, Bill Amerson, said, "I saw John measure himself several times; it was 13 and a half inches [34.3 cm]".[8] In contrast, medical studies of human penis size have consistently found erections average between about 5 and 6 inches.[39][40][41]

So celebrated was the size of Holmes' penis that it was used as a promotional tool for films in which he did not even appear. The film Anybody But My Husband ran a promotional tag line of "Tony 'The Hook' Perez has a dick so big he gives John Holmes a run for his money".[42]

At the height of his career, Holmes claimed to have had his penis insured by Lloyd's of London for $14 million. Holmes reveled in claiming he was insured "for $1 million an inch".[43]

Another controversy regarding whether Holmes ever achieved a full erection, although much of his early work clearly revealed he was able to achieve a substantial erection. A popular joke in the 1970s porn industry held that Holmes was incapable of achieving a full erection because the blood flow from his head into his penis would cause him to pass out.[44] Fellow film actress Annette Haven stated that his penis was never particularly hard during intercourse, likening it to "doing it with a big, soft kind-of loofah".[44]

After Holmes' death, the length of his penis continued to be used to market Holmes-related material. For example, at the premiere of the film Wonderland (2003), patrons were given 1312-inch rulers as gag gifts.[45]

Business activities and endeavors[]

In 1979, along with his younger half-brother David Bowman, Holmes opened in Los Angeles a locksmith shop managed by Bowman and an attached used goods store called The Just Looking Emporium, named by Sharon Gebinini and managed by Dawn Schiller. However, because of Holmes' escalating drug addiction, which distracted him from buying inventory for the Emporium and siphoned its working capital, the Emporium "close[d] its doors forever by the end of September 1980".[31][46] According to Schiller, "David [kept] his part of the business open while John remove[d] our inventory and [sold] it all for coke".[47]

Later, after his 1982 murder trial and acquittal, Holmes began a business partnership with his friend, manager and associate Bill Amerson. They founded and operated a production company named Penguin Productions, where Holmes could be a triple-threat: writing, directing and performing.[31] Holmes appeared in seven of Penguin's 20 productions between 1985 and 1988. After requesting permission to use the name Johnny Wadd from his old director and friend Bob Chinn, Holmes reprised the detective role for the Penguin Production:The Return of Johnny Wadd (1986) – one of his last films.

Holmes mythology[]

Holmes' career was promoted with a series of outrageous claims that he made over the years (many made up on the spur of the moment by Holmes himself). The most dubious ones include:

  • Holmes' penis was so big that he had to stop wearing underwear because: "I was getting erections and snapping the elastic waist band four or five times a month".[48]
  • Holmes had degrees in physical therapy, medicine and political science from UCLA.[49] Holmes was in fact a high-school dropout who never returned to school and, according to Bill Amerson, "the closest John ever got to UCLA was breaking into cars in the school's parking lot".[8]
  • Holmes and Ken Osmond, who played Eddie Haskell in the TV series Leave It to Beaver, were the same person and in fact the two men simply shared a passing resemblance.[50]
  • During the filming of a gay feature film, Holmes inadvertently killed two male performers and was tried for manslaughter. The judge in the case sentenced Holmes to abstain from performing anal sex in any future films. However, this is an unproven urban myth.[51]


  • February 14, 1985 – First inductee into the X-Rated Critic's Organization (XRCO) Hall of Fame
  • 2008 XBIZ Award – Lifetime Achievement – Male Performer[52]




  • Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story (1981)[54]
  • Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes (1999)[55][56]
  • XXXL: The John Holmes Story (2000; also known as The Real Dirk Diggler: The John Holmes Story)[57]
  • John Holmes: The Man, the Myth, the Legend (2004)[58]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: AIDS and Misty Dawn". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  2. "What You Need to Know about Human Sex", Dr. Graham Klingbine. Published 9-28-2016. ISBN 9781785893735
  4. "Amersen interview". Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. 1999. 
  5. Marriage records for Mary Barton Holmes and Edgar Holmes as researched at,
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Ohio marriage records". 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 "Bill Amerson interview". Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. 1998. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Source: Sharon Holmes interview in the documentary Wadd: The life and Times of John C. Holmes
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Sager, Mike (2003). Scary Monsters and Super Freaks: Stories of Sex, Drugs, Rock 'N' Roll and Murder. Da Capo Press. p. 10. ISBN 1-56025-563-3. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Sugar, Jennifer & Nelson Jill C. (2008). John Holmes, a Life Measured in Inches. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: Wadd the Informer". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  13. Robert W. Steward (April 14, 1988). "Holmes' Confession in Bathtub: Told Wife of Role in 4 Murders". Los Angeles Times. 
  14. Sager, Mike (May 1989). "The Devil in John Holmes". Rolling Stne. 
  15. MacDonell, Allen (October 2, 2003). "In Too Deep". Los Angeles Weekly. 
  16. Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes (Director's Cut ed.). 1998. 
  17. "King Dong". p. 4. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "In Too Deep". Rolling Stone. 
  19. Scheeres, Julia. "Miami — The Wonderland Murders — Crime Library". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  20. "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes," statement made by his lawyer, Earl Hanson.
  21. 21.0 21.1 John Patrick (2008). Huge. STARbooks Press. p. 13. ISBN 1-934187-29-1. 
  22. Steve Javors (21 November 2007). "Paradise Visuals Inks Distribution Deal With Anabolic". XBIZ. Retrieved 2009-04-11. [dead link]
  23. Holden, Stephen (January 12, 2001). "WADD: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes". NY Times. 
  24. William Hawes (2009). Caligula and the fight for artistic freedom: the making, marketing and impact of the Bob Guccione film. McFarland & Company. p. 203. ISBN 0-7864-3986-6. 
  25. "La mala vida del rey del porno (Spanish)". El Mundo. May 16, 2004. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  26. Basten, Fred; Laurie Holmes; John C. Holmes (1998). Porn King: The John Holmes Story. John Holmes Inc.. ISBN 1-880047-69-1. 
  27. McNeil, Legs; Jennifer Osbourne; Peter Pavia (2005). The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film. HarperCollins. p. 451. ISBN 0-06-009659-4. 
  28. Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes (1998)
  29. Schiller, Dawn. Throwaway Teens. APB Speakers. 
  30. Schiller, Dawn (2010). The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes. Medallion Press. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 Sager, Mike (May 1989). "The Devil in John Holmes". Rolling Stone. 
  32. Sugar, Jennifer & Nelson, Jill C. (2008). John Holmes, A Life Measured in Inches. BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-302-9. 
  33. Kennedy, Dana (September 7, 2003). "John Holmes' Boogie Life". The New York Times. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 Schiller, Dawn (2009). The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes. Medallion Press. ASIN B00CNWM7FE. 
  35. Kennedy, Dana (September 7, 2003). "John Holmes’ Boogie Life". The New York Times. 
  36. "Seka Interview". 
  37. "Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story". Retrieved March 27, 2017. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 "Biography of John Holmes". Retrieved March 19, 2017. 
  39. Wylie, K.; Eardley, I. (2007). "Penile size and the 'small penis syndrome'". BJU international 99 (6): 1449–1455. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2007.06806.x. PubMed
  40. Wessells, H; Lue, TF; McAninch, JW (1996). "Penile length in the flaccid and erect states: guidelines for penile augmentation." The Journal of urology 156 (3): 995–7. doi:10.1016/S0022-5347(01)65682-9. PubMed
  41. Chen, J.; Gefen, A.; Greenstein, A.; Matzkin, H.; Elad, D. (2000). "Predicting penile size during erection". International journal of impotence research 12 (6): 328–333. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3900627. PubMed
  43. "All Tied up in Knots (Interview with John C. Holmes)". Penthouse Magazine. July 1976. 
  44. 44.0 44.1 "Annette Haven interview". Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes. 1998. 
  45. "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  46. Schiller, Dawn. The Road Through Wonderland. 
  47. Schiller, Dawn. The Road Through Wonderland.  Chapter 11.
  48. John Holmes interview. 
  49. "John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders: 12.5 Inches". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  50. Stengel, Richard (August 9, 1982). "When Eden Was in Suburbia". TIME.,9171,925676-2,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  51. "Wadds Up? John Holmes Fact and Fiction". Man to Man Magazine. January 12, 1974. 
  52. "Winners". February 2011. 
  53. Sager, Mike (1989). "The Devil and John Holmes". Scary Monsters and Super Freaks. Archived from the original on October 24, 2004. 
  54. Jacobson, Colin (Reviewer) (1981). "Review of Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story". 
  55. Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. Rotten Tomatoes. 1999. [dead link]
  56. Morris, Gary (2001). "Discussion of Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes". 
  57. Hills, David (Director) (2000). XXXL: The John Holmes Story. Rotten Tomatoes. 
  58. John Holmes: The Man, the Myth, the Legend. Rotten Tomatoes. 2004. [dead link]

Further reading[]

External links[]

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