Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Celebrity: Wonder Bread and Ecstasy: The Life & Death of Joey Stefano

(Charles Isherwood, Alyson Publications, 1996)

Isherwood might have the vocabulary, but oddly enough, considering the subject matter, his book remains oddly superficial. Despite its 200+ pages, the reader learns little about the actual inner-mechanics of once famed and now mostly forgotten gay porn star (and bottom) Joey Stefano, born Nicholas Iacona on New Year’s Day 1968. Isherwood cops out early and, in the books first chapter writes, “As befits a legendary beauty, the early days of Joey Stefano are somewhat shrouded in obscurity.” Considering that much of Stefano’s familyand most likely most of his old, pre-porn friendsare still alive back in his home state of Pennsylvania, many more details of his childhood and youth prior to wonder bread and ecstasy would probably have been available to someone willing to do a little more research (or with a bigger expense budget). Instead, we simply learn that his Dad died when he was 15 and as a result he turned to drugs and sex to gain a feeling of being loved and well-being. Sounds like layman’s armchair psychoanalysis, and it isbut then, who’s to say all the driving forces behind his drug use, porn career and slow but steady downward spiral aren’t due simply to the early death of his Dada?
One thing for sure, Stefano was indeed an attractive, photogenic man with a major self-destructive streak. His acting abilities aside, on film and in photos he always looked good and desirable in a way few do, other than the most famous of movie stars and models. He had more charisma than inches, which is perhaps one of the reasons he remained so popular is a size-dominated industryalong with the obvious enthusiasm he displayed at the receiving end of things. Had he had his shit together, one cannot help but think that even his porn career might not have stopped him from going further as a legit model or B & Z film actor. (Maybe, but doubtful: time has proven that few true adult film actors manage that crossover, especially in a society that essentially always looks down upon gay actors even more so than straight ones; Jeff Stryker has about as much talent as Tracy Lords, but whereas she gets regular parts in bad films, he never made it past one bad Italian Zombie film. [But then Stryker's looks were never as impressive as his size, whereas Lords does have a certain sexy bitchiness that can work on film.] Indeed, even at the time when Stefano was active and vocally gay, the common claim of many a gay porno starincluding Stryker was that they were gay for pay.)
Regrettably, what Stefano had in presence and looks was obviously equaled by a lack of common sense, brains and self-discipline. Be what it may, he did enjoy a brief phase as a popular porn star, gaydom’s first big-name bottom in an industry ruled primarily by tops. A shooting star, to say the leastone that burnt out on drugs, infected with HIV. If one chucks all the judgmental moralistic ballast innate to the American society, what is the actual shame is not the life he lived or the career that he chose, but rather that Stefano simply was unable to survivenot just the business, but the world as a whole.

(Top to Bottom)
1. The book
2. A facial.
3. Demurely all-American
4. The full package


Anonymous said...

Good intuitive analysis on the dude. I actually read this book back in '98 upon seeing it on a table in a stack, at the Shakespeare & Books bookstore in downtown NYC, literally not knowing who he was! I was instantly intrigued, more by his looks, and bought it. Yes, it didn't really delve too much into the inner-mechanics of why he was the way he was, the prostitution and drugs which go hand in hand, his chosen porn-career which took him from here in NYC to LA, and back, eventually and sadly dying alone in LA. Tragedy unfortunately was very close to him, consumed him, until taking him altogether.

Ty Jacob said...

When I read Isherwood's book, I became fascinated by the relationship between Joey Stefano and gay porn director Chi Chi Larue. My interest in that relationship became the launching off point for the characters in my novel ‘The End of Billy Knight.’

In many ways, my characters are very different than real-life Joey Stefano and Chi Chi Larue. My character 'Billy Knight' doesn't share Stefano's drug addiction, and real-life Chi Chi Larue has more integrity in her little finger than my character 'Sasha Zahore' has in her entire body. Still, the seed for them came from Isherwood's book, and from his descriptions of Stefano and Larue.

See for yourself here:

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