John Leslie: ‘Boogie Nights’ era adult film star dead at 65
John Leslie, one of the best-known adult film performers of the 1970s and 1980s, died of an apparent heart attack on Dec. 5 at his home in Mill Valley, California. Leslie (born John Leslie Nuzzo on Jan. 25, 1945, in East Liverpool, Ohio) was 65.
At one point a vocalist and harmonica player for the band Brooklyn Blues Busters, John Leslie was featured in about 300 pornographic productions, a large number of them during what’s known as the (American) Golden Age of Porn, notably – albeit bashfully – depicted in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 drama Boogie Nights.
Additionally, Leslie directed and/or produced nearly 150 sexually explicit movies and videos from the late 1980s to the time of his death.
John Leslie movies
In the ’70s and early ’80s, after U.S. obscenity laws were changed and before the video invasion, the mostly Los Angeles-based American sex film industry gave rise to various “porn auteurs” – whether straight, gay, or bisexual. Among those were Gerardo Damiano (Deep Throat, Devil in Miss Jones), William Higgins (Sailor in the Wild, Leo & Lance), and Radley Metzger (The Opening of Misty Beethoven, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann).
Although none of John Leslie’s films achieved the renown (or notoriety) of Gerardo Damiano’s box office hits, he was featured in a number of classic XXX titles. Four of them are listed below.
Officially directed by “Martin & Martin” (it’s unclear who this – purported – duo was composed of), Anna Obsessed / Obsessed (1977) starred Constance Money as a sexually dissatisfied married woman who becomes involved with another woman (Annette Haven) who turns out to be the demented Long Island Rape Murderer.
After enjoying plenty of robust sexual escapades, a large chunk of the Anna Obsessed cast ends up dead, including John Leslie (instead of first choice Robert Kerman) as Money’s husband.
Update: As found in The Rialto Report, Leslie would recall:
“I’d been in a few films by this time – but most of them had been out west. When I got to New York, I found a different vibe. This was one of the first times that I felt part of a ‘serious’ adult film, where the directors seemed to care about the quality of the acting. Naturally I ate it up.”
On the downside, he became perhaps a little too enthusiastic.
According to Anna Obsessed screenwriter (credited as) Piastro Cruiso, Leslie’s “willingness to offer suggestion and his ongoing inquiry into character development caused our directors to ultimately sniff an intrusion on their domain.
“’I want to get the mood down straight,’ John repeated during an hour of restless discussion. ‘Just tell me what my motivation is.’
“’Your motivation is your paycheck, John.’”
‘Candy Goes to Hollywood’
Leslie played a self-proclaimed agent with different plans for the newcomer.
‘Talk Dirty to Me’
Anthony Spinelli’s Talk Dirty to Me (1980) was popular enough to lead to several sequels. Discussing the film, critic Jami Bernard wrote the following in The X List: The National Society of Film Critics’ Guide to the Movies That Turn Us On:
It is possible – but not necessary [no need to justify one’s enjoyment] – to commend Anthony Spinelli’s 1980 porno Talk Dirty to Me for the way it integrates the sex scenes into the plot, as most of Spinelli’s pornos do, and note its thread of movie fandom and the clever way its characters correspond to some genre archetype.
These include John Leslie “as the brash masculine hero,” in addition to Richard Pacheco, Juliet Anderson, and the film’s female star, Jesie St. James.
‘High School Memories’
Like Talk Dirty to Me, Anthony Spinelli’s High School Memories (1980) was made just a few years before ultra-cheap, mostly plotless video productions took over the porn market.
The feature chronicles the good old sexually explicit reminiscences of a group of football players and cheerleaders, as they go back in time to their high school days – particularly, a memorable stay at a hotel for an out-of-town game.
Besides John Leslie, the stellar cast includes Annette Haven, Jamie Gillis, Richard Pacheco, and Jon Martin.
Last film appearances
Update: John Leslie was last seen in front of the camera in Bryce Wagoner’s 2012 documentary After Porn Ends, about the post-porn life of several adult film performers, among them Asia Carrera, Nina Hartley, Randy West, Richard Pacheco, and Amber Lynn.
In Bryn Pryor’s 2016 documentary X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time, Leslie is seen in archive footage.
The milieu in which John Leslie dwelt was superficially covered in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), starring Mark Wahlberg as the John Holmes-like porn star Dirk Diggler, Burt Reynolds as dedicated porn auteur Jack Horner, and Julianne Moore as drug-addicted actress Amber Waves.
Both Reynolds and Moore were shortlisted for Academy Awards in the supporting categories, while Anderson received a nod for Best Original Screenplay even though Boogie Nights was based on his own 1988 mockumentary short The Dirk Diggler Story.
Pseudonyms & woman director controversy
Also worth noting, he at times worked under pseudonyms such as John Leslie Dupre, Frederick Watson, and Lenny Lovely.
 There’s some controversy about Gail Palmer’s directorial credits. According to author Peter Sagal, who interviewed Palmer for her (unpublished) ghost-written autobiography, movies credited to Palmer were actually directed by her then-boyfriend, porn distributor Harry Mohney.
John Leslie movies’ info via the IMDb.
“John Leslie: Porn Star Who Reached Height of Fame During Boogie Nights Era Dead at 65” last updated in May 2018.