Ron Jeremy is the most famous man in porn.
Since the mid-Seventies – the so-called “Golden Age of Porn” – he’s appeared in over 2000 adult films, with memorable titles like Frankenpenis, Dick-tation and Sgt Peckers Lonely Hearts Club Gang Bang. He’s had sex with, by his count, about 4000 women.
And at 62, he’s still doing porn. His latest, Night at the Erotic Museum, is pretty much what you’d expect. (Imagine the Ben Stiller comedy Night at the Museum, but with people screwing.) Today, I’m sitting with Jeremy in an exam room at the Beverly Hills Cedars Sinai Medical Centre. He’s here for a checkup, and he’s nervous. But probably not for the reasons you think.
He’s not nervous because he’s had unprotected sex with thousands of women over the course of four centuries. Nor is he waiting for STI test results. He’s pretty sure that he gained back all the weight he lost since his last doctor’s visit. He’d dropped nine kilos, and when he slims down, “my blood pressure goes down on its own, always”.
Jeremy has spent a lifetime taking terrible care of his body, and he’s only recently tried to make lifestyle changes. Everything changed for him two years ago, when he first “felt that elephant on my chest”.
In February of 2013, Jeremy drove himself to Cedars-Sinai after feeling severe chest pain. He was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm and was immediately wheeled into a 10-hour surgery, in which doctors replaced the defective portion of his aorta with a synthetic tube.Since the surgery, Jeremy says he was prescribed blood thinners to keep his blood pressure low.
“Had I taken that years ago, I never would’ve had a problem,” he claims. “I was against all kinds of medication, I didn’t believe in any of that.”
Jeremy wasn’t necessarily being holistic about his health, trusting in the natural healing powers of his own body. He was worried about his boners.There’s only anecdotal evidence that blood-thinners cause erectile dysfunction. But for many guys, that’s enough to make them skittish.Now suppose that your career depends on your erection. ED isn’t something you have to contend with only in the privacy of your bedroom. If you don’t get an erection, you don’t get paid. And the world will likely hear about it.
Imagine you’re the New York Mets’ baseballer Daniel Murphy, and your doctor tells you, “If you take this pill, you’ll have a better chance of living. But you probably won’t be able to hit another home run again.”
That’s what Ron Jeremy was faced with.
I finally ask the question that needed to be asked. “How are your boners? Are you still . . . you know . . . having them?”
He shrugs. “The Schmeckle is not what it used to be,” he admits. “I can get there, but it takes a while.”
He describes a technique he’s employed for years on porn sets, when he’s needed an erection immediately. He calls it “The Ron Jeremy Grip”.
It involves locking your thumb and forefinger around the testicles and base of the penis, and pushing the blood to the front.
“It’s like making a cock ring out of your fingers,” he explains. “I won’t take it out, but I can show you under the pants.”
Before I can wave him off because I think I get it, he’s already doing a little dirty puppet show underneath his “Sex Across America” sweatpants. He doesn’t say how long his “Schmeckle” has been reluctant to perform, or if he blames it entirely on the blood thinners. It’s possible he’s had some form of ED long before he began taking medication.
Some studies indicate a strong link between ED and cardiovascular disease. A 2013 study of 95,000 men found that those with ED, even if they had no apparent heart problems, had a 60 percent higher risk of developing heart disease. Could Jeremy have gone from heart healthy to an aortic aneurysm without any warning signs from his pecker? It seems unlikely, and Jeremy is hard pressed to admit to any “problem” with his most famous asset.
A technician comes in to take his blood pressure. Without sharing Jeremy’s number, he’s told it’s fine. This brings Jeremy no relief. He asks for a second opinion – a reading from the other arm. Finally, he meets with Dr Ernst Schwarz, the Medical Director of the Cardiac Support Program at Cedars, and one of the doctors who saved Jeremy’s life.
“You gained weight?” Schwarz asks.
“Yeah, I was stupid,” Jeremy says, sheepishly, as they approach the scale.
Jeremy weighs in at 113kg. He hasn’t gained back the weight after all. For all of his fretting, he’s actually holding steady.
They discuss late-onset diabetes – which Jeremy is convinced he has – and Schwarz orders an ultrasound to see if there’s any change in the tissue surrounding Jeremy’s aorta. Then Jeremy requests a private consultation with the doctor.
Which means I’m asked to leave.
I’m curious why a guy who demonstrated stroking his penis through sweatpants would need privacy for anything. Later, when I press him for details, he tells me the whole story.
“So I’m coming across girls who want the real Shazam,” he says. “They want the real Jeremy Schmeckle. If you look at my early films, you’d say, ‘Goddamn that thing’s huge’. I’ve had girls say, ‘I don’t want the grip. I want to see that thing in all it’s glory.’”
And that’s what he wants to give them. But at 62, post-heart surgery, on blood thinners, worried about his blood pressure, Ron Jeremy needs some assistance. The man with one of the most recognisable penises in adult films, who named his own memoir The Hardest (Working) Man in Show Biz, who once played Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture using only his schlong, asked his doctor for Cialis.Which isn’t entirely shocking. He does have heart disease. A little poor bloodflow to his penis should be expected. But Jeremy is still uncomfortable by the idea.
“I never had to rely on anything my whole life,” he tells me. “So I’m not going to jump into this.”
He’s still reluctant to take pills and says he’s never had to refill his prescription for his anxiety medication. “Just knowing they’re there is good enough,“ he admits. “At least now I have the pills, so I might or might not take them.”
We walk to the Tower at Cedars Sinai, where Jeremy’s echocardiogram is scheduled. Along the way, he’s stopped twice by women who want pictures with him.
“I love you to death,” one giddy woman shouts as she walks away.
He’s prepared for all of it. “I carry this magic marker in case a girl wants her boobie signed,” he tells me.
He’s also acutely aware that it’s not going to last forever. “Some day, some really bad horrible day, I’m not going to be famous anymore. I’ll have this marker in one hand and a can of Vaseline in the other to jerk my Shmeckle. I’ll be saying, ‘Doesn’t somebody want a picture of me? Come on, I used to be famous. Don’t you want an autograph on the boob?’”
It’s fascinating how Ron Jeremy – not just as a person but also a cultural icon – has changed in recent years. For decades, he was the world’s most famous male porn star specifically because he didn’t look the part. He’s hairy, overweight, aesthetically unappealing in every feasible way. And yet, he’s had sex with countless beautiful women.
He was, in his own words, “living proof that anyone can get laid”.
But Ron Jeremy circa 2015 is a different story. He’s living proof that your bad habits can and probably will catch up to you eventually.
How is Jeremy still alive? I honestly have no idea. He shouldn’t be. He’s treated his body like an all-you-can-eat buffet. He’s had more unsafe sex than almost anyone on the planet. He should, by every standard of common sense, be dead. But he shoulders on. Even if just as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.
On the ECG table, he’s relieved to have the same technician that did his ultrasound following his surgery. As she probes the rotund hairy chest that’s earned him the nickname “The Hedgehog”, she tries to ignore his frequent questions.
“How is it?” he asks. “Is that bad? Are you allowed to say anything, or only the doctor can?”
“I'm not really allowed to say anything,” she says.
The technician leaves the room, and Jeremy goes silent, deep in thought scored only by the gentle hum of machines.
“Are you afraid of dying?” he asks me suddenly.
I tell him I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m not exactly afraid.
He nods. “I’m afraid.”
It's an introspective moment you wouldn't expect from a guy who wears a Bunny Ranch T-shirt to the doctor’s office.
I ask him what frightens him about dying.
“Not being around,” he says. “The planet going on without me. Even if there is life after death, it won’t be as you know it.”
We sit there together, waiting, not really saying much of anything. The technician will return shortly to tell him that his ECG looks great, and the doctor has cleared him to leave. But that’s not what I’ll remember. It’s the look of panic in Jeremy’s eyes as he sits in a dark, windowless room and waits to hear if he’s dying today.
Ron Jeremy’s legacy is full of life lessons. Eat more vegetables. Pay attention to your blood pressure. Exercise in ways that don’t involve gangbangs. Value your heart health over your erections.
But there’s also a lesson in there about priorities. Yes, he’s still the most famous man in porn, with enough wild sex stories to fill several books. But he’d give it all up for the chance to go back and do it again. Maybe eat a salad or two this time.
His father is alive and well at 97 years old, and he often scolds his son for his excessive weight. “He likes to tell me, ‘Look around the nursing home‘,” Jeremy says. “‘How many fat people do you see here? None, because none of them live that long!’”
Jeremy laughs, but it’s a laugh of somebody who knows the joke may soon be on him.