If ever there was a need for a trained actor, or to fill the bill for a really unusual role in 1970s porn, they’d usually call Jamie Gillis. You might say he was the Harvey Keitel of porno. Gillis died on Friday. From the obituary:
Adult film industry legend Jamie Gillis succumbed to a battle with cancer and died in New York City on February 19, 2010. He was 66.
“Jamie was a magnificent spirit,” said author Larry “Ratso” Sloman, a close friend. “He was a kind, gentle, compassionate soul with an insatiable thirst for experience – equally at home at the opera, the OTB parlor, an elegant restaurant, a hockey game or Plato’s Retreat. He was a Renaissance Jew.”
His live-in partner of seven years, the Manhattan restaurateur Zarela Martinez, was quickly able to separate the man from the myth, the person from the persona. “After my initial reservations about being involved with a notorious porn star, I got to know a cultured man of great depth and warmth.”
Another friend, Ashley Spicer, who was working with Jamie and others on a documentary about the birth of the New York adult film industry, noted, “While he became known for the darker roles he sometimes played, off-screen Jamie was a sensitive and loyal friend. He was a unique, irreplaceable person.”
Born Jamey Ira Gurman on April 20, 1943 in New York, Jamie Gillis was one of the adult film’s first genuine stars and one of the genre’s most recognizable, charismatic, and influential figures.
After graduating with honors from Columbia University in 1970, he became an aspiring theater actor and mime artist supporting himself by working part time as a taxi driver.
In 1971, he answered an advertisement in the Village Voice for a nude model; this lead to work performing in short films known as loops and subsequently in the first wave of explicit adult feature films.
He quickly established himself as the leading male performer and best actor in East Coast adult films during porn’s golden age, which lasted from 1972 to 1983. During this era, porn was shot on film, had reasonable production values, genuine story lines and aspirations to mainstream acceptance. Gillis starred in all the major productions at this time, including “The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann” (1974), “The Story of Joanna” (1975), “The Opening of Misty Beethoven” (1976), “Through the Looking Glass” (1976), “The Ecstasy Girls” (1979), “Amanda By Night” (1981), “Roommates” (1981), and many others. He was also an occasional performer in live sex shows in Times Square, where he recited Shakespeare soliloquies on stage ostensibly to give the shows a “socially redeeming purpose” and thus avoid obscenity charges.
In the 1980s when porn production moved to California where it was predominantly shot on video, Gillis relocated to the West Coast where his prolific acting career continued. He also appeared in a number of roles in mainstream films, including “Nighthawks” (1982) which starred Sylvester Stallone. In 1989, he turned director / performer, creating the series “On the Prowl” which initiated the “gonzo” style of porn videos – a genre which returned to the raw aesthetic of the loops he had made at the beginning of his career.
He continued to work in the adult film business until the early 2000s, increasingly appearing in non-sexual roles before announcing his retirement at the end of 2007 as a Christmas present for his partner Zarela. It is estimated that he appeared in over 500 feature films and loops over the course of his four-decade career.
A ubiquitous participant in New York’s sexual subculture of the 1970s, he appeared more recently in documentaries paying tribute to Plato’s Retreat (“American Swing”) and fellow adult performer Jack Wrangler (“Wrangler, Anatomy of an Idol”).
He is survived by his partner Zarela Martinez, three sisters (Phyllis Conley, Diane Lane, and Judy Caiati), two brothers (Wayne and Allan Gurman), and a daughter, Debbie Gurman.
Gillis will be cremated at a private ceremony. He requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the NYC Police Athletic League, an organization that assisted him as a boy and continues to aid New York City children. Donations can be made here.
Via Michael Simmons