Movie Talk

‘Deep Throat’ Star Harry Reems Dies At 65

Movie Talk

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Photo: Everett Collection

Harry Reems, an iconic star of adult films who played the male lead in the most infamous XXX movie of the 1970s, "Deep Throat," has died at the age of 65. According to Don Schenk, a close friend of Reems, the actor died after several years of declining health, which included bouts with emphysema, pancreatic cancer, liver failure, and kidney failure. Reems' death comes as his most famous role has been recreated in an upcoming film about the life of his co-star, Linda Lovelace.

Reems was born Herbert Streicher in The Bronx, New York on August 27, 1947. After serving in the Marine Corps, Streicher tried to establish a career as an actor, but while he landed occasional roles off-Broadway, he began making money on the side appearing in low-budget stag movies, using the stage name Harry Reems. Reems also worked as a carpenter and served on the lighting crew for several pornographic pictures.

In 1972, Reems was hired to join the camera crew for a XXX film being shot in Florida under the title "The Doctor Makes A House Call." When a suitable actor couldn't be found to portray a playfully lascivious doctor, director Gerard Damiano promoted Reems from crew to co-star. After the film opened under the name "Deep Throat," it unexpectedly became the most successful adult movie of all time, earning an estimated $600 million. It launched a long career in the adult industry for Reems, who was known for his bushy mustache and knack for playing broad comedy as well as lusty anti-heroes.

Reems' best known film would cause him some serious legal trouble in 1975, when overzealous prosecutors in Memphis, Tennessee attempted to indict him on charges of conspiring to distribute pornography because of his role in the film. It was believed that prosecutors were hoping to stop the production of XXX films by creating a legal precedent that would make it possible to go after the actors who appeared in the movies as well as the producers and distributors. The case became a cause celebre among many in Hollywood who feared increased government interference in the film industry, and Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty helped raise money for Reems' defense. While Reems was initially found guilty, his conviction was thrown out on appeal.

Reems hoped his new contacts in Hollywood would help him move into mainstream films, and he claimed to have landed in a role in "Grease" before Paramount Pictures demanded he be recast, not wanting the PG musical to be associated with Reems' raunchier work. While Reems never broke through to regular work in the mainstream industry, he would go on to star in well over a hundred adult films, but he fell into severe alcoholism that scuttled his career. In 1989, Reems gave up drinking, experienced a spiritual rebirth, and got married. Reems launched a successful career in real estate in Park City, Utah, and while he never made another film, in interviews he seemed to regard his career in porn as a youthful indiscretion, something he wasn't proud of but didn't regret, either. Reems spoke about his career in the 2005 documentary "Behind Deep Throat" and in the book "The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History Of The Porn Film Industry" by Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osbourne.

In January 2013, "Lovelace," a film based on the life and career of Linda Lovelace, opened at the Sundance Film Festival in Reems' hometown of Park City; Adam Brody plays Reems in the picture. In an interview shortly before the movie's premiere, Reems, who had yet to see "Lovelace," addressed long-standing allegations that the actress was abused on the set on "Deep Throat."

"I'm hoping it will be very accurate," Reems said "There's enough people alive who know if she was beat on the set. She was never beat on the set. She was not. That's not true. I was there for the 12 days (of the film's shoot)."

Reems also spoke of Lovelace, saying, "I thought she was sweet and wonderful and quiet. But she was just stuck with the wrong guy. He basically controlled her life."

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