John C. Holmes, also known by various names though most famously as "Johnny Wadd," was an American actor in early pornographic feature films and regarded within his own industry as "the King." Endowed with a member variously described as being between eight and 13 inches in length -- an exact figure is not known, and highly disputed -- Holmes was the main male performer in adults-only features of the 1970s. Born in rural Ohio and raised in a string of abusive households, Holmes joined the U.S. Army, married upon discharge, and was a temporarily disabled forklift driver when he entered porn films in 1968. Through 1987 -- when full-blown AIDS began to take him apart physically -- Holmes made an estimated 2,300 films, although many of these were "loops" (short sex films designed for viewing in peepshow booths), and more than a thousand of them have been lost. Some features have Holmes in the cast only by virtue of recycled footage from Holmes' 8 mm loops, so an accurate count of his total film output will likely remain as elusive as the true dimensions of his most renowned body part.
Holmes didn't appear in "classic" '70s porn films -- Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and the like. Most of the films John Holmes appeared in were built around him, particularly the "Johnny Wadd" series of features, which began in 1971 and continued up to near the end of his life. "Wadd" was a private detective who became involved in a series of sexual adventures of various kinds; the series was so popular among adult moviegoers that the name "Johnny Wadd" became well known before Holmes' own name did. Toward the end of the 1970s, he appeared in adaptations of historic sex novels that had somewhat bigger budgets than his "Wadd" films, such as The Autobiography of a Flea (1976), Casanova (1977), and The Erotic Adventures of Candy (1979), but most of these projects lost money. Holmes' ordinary, run-of-the-mill features and loops were enormous moneymakers for the porn producers, an industry heavily dominated by figures from organized crime.
By about 1980, Holmes' appeal was in decline, and his increasing unreliability on the set became an issue, so the porn industry stopped using him; by then addicted to cocaine, Holmes turned to petty criminality. This placed John Holmes in the orbit of a number of dangerous criminals, and in the summer of 1981, Holmes was in trouble with a Los Angeles-based band of thieves known as the "Wonderland Avenue Gang." Holmes tipped the gang off to the home of Eddie Nash, a prominent L.A. drug dealer, whom they robbed with Holmes' assistance. Nash took Holmes hostage and forced him to reveal the thieves' whereabouts -- returning to their hangout and, with the help of some additional thugs, beat all but one of the gang members to death, with Holmes at least watching, and possibly participating in some fashion. After being on the run from police for quite some time, Holmes was arrested and charged with murder. He was acquitted, but refused to cooperate with police and served several months in jail for contempt of court. While Holmes did eventually implicate Nash to police, no convictions were handed down in the "Wonderland Avenue murders."
Holmes, his profile raised considerably from interest in the case, returned to porn once he had worked out his issues with the LAPD. By 1985, however, Holmes was diagnosed with AIDS, yet continued to make porn films without informing his partners he was so infected. The porn industry in the United States caught wind of this and barred him from working; Holmes' last films were made in Italy. John Holmes died at age 43, in March 1988. Among his output are a small number of gay films, including the feature The Private Pleasures of John C. Holmes (1983), of which all four principal actors ultimately died of AIDS. Holmes was not bisexual in his private life and observed a strictly "gay for pay" policy as an actor and escort; his early, apparently "lost" gay loops are considered the Holy Grail for those active in the preservation of porn films.
During the better part of Holmes' active career, only adult film fans knew of him, but after his death, his reputation surpassed that of Linda Lovelace as history's best-known, and most notorious, porn film actor. The character of "Dirk Diggler" in the film Boogie Nights (1997) was in part modeled on Holmes, and he was portrayed by Val Kilmer in the film Wonderland (2003). Holmes has been the subject of numerous documentaries, at least four books, and even scholarly dissertations. Apart from his equipment, the most notable aspects of his screen performance were that he was able to act in a limited way and did have a kind of genuine screen presence, even with clothes on -- he is easy to recognize in the most anonymous of his loops. However, the great amount of interest in John Holmes seems to relate mostly to his reputation as a kind of a post-modern outlaw, and neither in his films nor his acting.