New York Times discloses Erik Rhodes's HIV status in story about grieving loved ones

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    Jun 22, 2012 6:56 PM GMT
    NY TimesTHE bereaved reactions on Twitter came from all over: Kim Hastreiter, the editor of Paper Magazine; Bruce LaBruce, the independent film director; and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters, who called his recently departed friend “brave” and “honest.”

    The source of their grief?

    Erik Rhodes, 30, a 6-foot-4, 258-pound gay pornographic-film star who died last Thursday in Manhattan from a heart attack after a nearly decade-long career that had made him an unlikely celebrity in some New York social circles. He appeared regularly on Page Six, spent time with the designer Marc Jacobs, was profiled in magazines that had nothing to do with pornography, and shot an ad campaign for Loehmann’s.

    Over the last few years, he had also been the author of a harrowing (and frequently clever) Tumblr feed, on which he detailed his escapades escorting, his rampant steroid use and his stories of winding up in psychiatric wards after crystal meth binges. (The blog was taken down last weekend, shortly after news of his death ricocheted around the Internet.)

    Mr. Rhodes, whose given name was James Naughtin, was signed to Falcon Video in 2004, and became one of a handful of recognizable faces in an era when the industry was going through a painful economic contraction, thanks to online file sharing and free pornography sites like Xtube.

    “The gay porn audience often looks to a hulking macho fantasy, and he provided that,” said Michael Musto, the Village Voice gossip columnist who was friendly with Mr. Rhodes. “He was Thor, the Hulk and the rest of the ‘Avengers’ cast wrapped in a gay package. And the fashion connection and the fact that he had a brain elevated him from your everyday escort-slash-porn-god and gave him texture.”

    Mickey Boardman, the editorial director of Paper, said, “We would see him out all the time,” adding: “He was hilarious. He was totally self-aware, and the stories he would tell me were unbelievable.”

    Mr. Rhodes grew up with his identical twin, Jon Naughtin, in Massapequa, N.Y., two children whose parents had a long and nasty divorce. Only Mr. Naughtin went to college, and Mr. Rhodes took a stream of low-paying jobs, working at a CVS and a sex-toy store, before moving into stripping and then pornographic films at 22.

    At first, Mr. Naughtin, who is straight, was inclined to be open-minded about his brother’s new career. “I thought it was fine,” he said. “And I was a little naïve about how much money he was making. I thought, ‘If it pays the bills, why not?’ ”

    But as the Web replaced video stores as the delivery mechanism for adult content, Mr. Rhodes found his salary shrinking, even while his celebrity rose. And there were other problems.

    “People faulted him for doing steroids, which was the thing that allowed him to be the ideal they wanted,” said Samuel Colt, an actor who appeared with Mr. Rhodes on-screen and was a friend for the last several years of his life. “And people were always trying to push drugs onto him.”

    Things went from bad to worse. Mr. Rhodes got into fights with boyfriends, and the police would be called. Famous friends like Mr. Jacobs, who did not respond to calls for comment for this article, fell away. Mr. Rhodes went from using steroids to dealing them. And then, a few years ago, he tested positive for H.I.V.

    According to Mr. Colt, Mr. Rhodes found this out when he went to shoot a scene for Randy Blue, a company that requires testing. “They said, ‘Your test results came back, and you’re H.I.V. positive,’ ” Mr. Colt said. Nevertheless, Randy Blue still managed to get Mr. Rhodes to film a solo scene that day, Mr. Colt said.

    As the novelty of being in pornographic films wore off, Mr. Rhodes turned increasingly to the Internet, using his Tumblr feed and his Facebook page to discuss his sense of anguish. “I feel so left out ... so alone,” he wrote in a post just weeks ago.

    On June 13, after a night in which Mr. Rhodes was hired along with another escort to perform for a wealthy client (according to text messages later read by his brother), the two men continued the evening on their own, having sex and doing drugs. But Mr. Rhodes quickly realized that he was not feeling well and cut the evening short.

    Once home, he apparently went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead in a hospital shortly thereafter, his brother said.


    For many years, Mr. Rhodes talked of an early death, sometimes joking, sometimes not. Now it was here.

    Mr. Naughtin looks back with regret at the casual attitude he took when his brother told him he was going into pornography. “I wouldn’t have let him get into it,” he said. “I would say that’s not a direction that can lead anywhere good.”
  • RunnerMD

    Posts: 157

    Jun 22, 2012 7:36 PM GMT
    What a sad article and story. The guy seemed like he could have had a lot going for him if he hadn't allowed himself to get sucked into such a vortex of negativity.
  • Dominican_Gen...

    Posts: 379

    Jun 22, 2012 7:41 PM GMT
    The man is already dead, let him rest in peace!
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    Jun 22, 2012 7:44 PM GMT
    Dead people had no expectation of privacy. That being said, the NYT is a shadow of it's former glorious self and has basically become an expensive, self-important National Enquirer. This was a dick move.
  • jhill2456

    Posts: 285

    Jun 22, 2012 7:48 PM GMT
    The story reads pretty much lke an obituary really. It's sad. Erik led a sad life and it was clear that his demons would overtake him. I just hope he is now at peace.
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    Jun 22, 2012 7:50 PM GMT
    Unrelated, but his birth name "Naughtin" is pretty awesome.
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    Jun 22, 2012 7:52 PM GMT
    his life was out there for everyone to read so only appropriate all the info in his death is out there. He really would have wanted it like that anyhow I would imagine
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    Jun 22, 2012 7:54 PM GMT
    Yeah, it's so similar to James Naughton, the brunet actor on Planet of The Apes who always lost his shirt and forever managed to stay oiled to a sheen despite constantly being on the run from gorillas on horseback.

    planet_apes_%28187%29.jpg
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    Jun 22, 2012 8:01 PM GMT
    Sorta off-topic, but I think it's funny that the Times insists on using their stuffy, old-school style attribution -- title before surname -- yet they don't have a problem using obvious made-up porn names.

    That's Mr. Colt to you!

    It's too bad they didn't get a quote from Mr. D'Macho.
  • GQjock

    Posts: 11649

    Jun 22, 2012 8:01 PM GMT
    We see this kind of death over and over again ... but we only take note when it happens to someone who has some fame

    We deify these men who are porn stars but the life isn't easy
    You have to constantly look .... perfect physically .... so you take steroids
    You're in crowds that use huge amts of drugs
    You're exposed to wealth and a good way to get it is to trick .... more drugs
    and gay men don't take well to aging porn stars
    so the pressure to try and stay in the business becomes overwhelming

    But one thing you ned to know guys .... is that steroids are Very Potent drugs
    They can give you the results you may want but it's at a price
    and they set off cascades of hormonal and physiologic effects that you don't see or feel until it's too late

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    Jun 22, 2012 8:34 PM GMT
    there's a whole debate over this over on the sword

    because the US was founded by puritans, sex workers are not treated the same as other people.

    although, my only question would be if his brother had the option to veto his status being in the article and declined.
  • ac416

    Posts: 273

    Jun 22, 2012 8:44 PM GMT
    Why does it matter if they disclosed his HIV status when he's dead? If he was alive it obviously hinders every career option . But now it's just a powerful reminder to be safe .
    - (was referring to discrimination faced for employment btw)
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    Jun 22, 2012 8:56 PM GMT
    ac416 saidWhy does it matter if they disclosed his HIV status when he's dead? If he was alive it obviously hinders every career option . But now it's just a powerful reminder to be safe .


    Totally agree. He's dead or are there some legal ramification for third parties still living?

  • jim_sf

    Posts: 2094

    Jun 22, 2012 9:02 PM GMT
    ac416 saidWhy does it matter if they disclosed his HIV status when he's dead? If he was alive it obviously hinders every career option . But now it's just a powerful reminder to be safe .


    Not "every" career option - as I understand it, there are many, many, many HIV+ porn performers, even among the mainstream studios.
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    Jun 22, 2012 9:05 PM GMT
    So HIPPA regulations only apply to the living. Once deceased, your HIPPA rights are null and void?

    Interesting question...
  • jim_sf

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    Jun 22, 2012 9:07 PM GMT
    catfish5 saidSo HIPPA regulations only apply to the living. Once deceased, your HIPPA rights are null and void?

    Interesting question...


    Not really a HIPPA issue, unless the information came from someone involved in his health care (his doctor or someone at his doctor's office, for example).
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    Jun 22, 2012 9:46 PM GMT
    well his job was as porn star and also more importantly as an escort, he should be disclosing his status to clients
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    Jun 22, 2012 9:53 PM GMT
    Here's a twist. Let's take something positive from this.

    Eric/James went years without being tested and did not know he was HIV+. If Randy Blue hadn't required testing, he may have continued living without knowing, and potentially infected numerous people, inadvertently. Why Eric/James didn't get tested before or frequently is a mystery, considering his profession and his personal activities.

    So, get tested before you continue potentially harming yourself and others.
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    Jun 23, 2012 3:59 AM GMT
    jerseywoof saidwell his job was as porn star and also more importantly as an escort, he should be disclosing his status to clients


    Agreed.
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    Jun 23, 2012 8:29 PM GMT
    endo saidSorta off-topic, but I think it's funny that the Times insists on using their stuffy, old-school style attribution -- title before surname -- yet they don't have a problem using obvious made-up porn names.


    It's respectful and quaint. Me likey.
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    Jun 23, 2012 11:31 PM GMT
    catfish5 saidSo HIPPA regulations only apply to the living. Once deceased, your HIPPA rights are null and void?

    Interesting question...

    Well, HIPAA is about your health information. Maybe once your dead and no longer have any health, some agencies don't feel bound by HIPAA.

    Life insurers aren't bound by HIPAA, so they could know his status and disclose it.

    It could just be another source that revealed his status.