On Monday April 22, 2002, Linda Lovelace died from injuries she suffered in a car crash on April 3. Lovelace was taken to Denver Health Medical Center with massive trauma and internal injuries after the accident. She was taken off life support Monday, said hospital spokeswoman Sara Spaulding. She was 53.
The mega-star of porn’s golden age whose most famous appearance was starring in the 1972 film Deep Throat, Lovelace, born Linda Boreman, was a “bad” girl who looked like a sweet girl-next-door, and conveyed onscreen the freshness of a daisy. It was this archetypal conflict of character that made her alluring, yet the conflict of “good” and “bad” ran so deep into the onion-like layers of her personality that it fueled every choice she made. In researching Lovelace, it was difficult to ignore her reputation prior to Deep Throat for enthusiastic bestiality — the many films she made with man’s best friend — and the physically abusive boyfriend she had throughout most of her porn career.
When Deep Throat hit the theaters, Lovelace’s performance caused such a stir that millions of Americans for the first time watched explicit sex onscreen. Frank Sinatra, Spiro Agnew, Warren Beatty, Truman Capote, Nora Ephron and Bob Woodward (who used “Deep Throat” as the name for his key Watergate source) saw the film on its first run, and eventually more persons saw Deep Throat in theaters than any other adult film. Deep Throat brought hardcore into popular culture and played for eight consecutive years at a theater in Hollywood until replaced by Exhausted.
Linda Lovelace had a strict religious upbringing, and a sequence of events that happen to any number of young girls landed her in the arms of a man named Chuck Traynor in 1969. He was bad. Slick, tough, and aggressive, Linda clung to him and somehow found in him the stimulation she required. After three weeks of knowing him, she moved in with him and began turning tricks. He dominated her every waking moment, and it was no secret that he beat her up on a regular basis.
With Chuck, Linda framed herself in a picture of the abused woman’s relationship cycle — always bad, never good, desperate to please and always a failure in the eyes of the person she wanted to love her the most. Chuck always told Linda how bad she was with his mouth and with his fists. He was the kind of man who enjoyed himself when he was hurting other people. He was what is often referred to in the world of porn as a “suitcase pimp” — the controlling, annoying boyfriend of a female star, who often purports himself to be her manager.
Linda’s run as porn’s “it” girl was relatively short, though she enjoyed a brief stint of celebrity status, doing magazine centerfolds, attending lavish parties, and having casual sexual alliances with celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr. and his wife, Altovise. She starred in the softcore release of Deep Throat 2, which for obvious reasons bombed. Lovelace eventually left Chuck Traynor for producer and choreographer David Winters. Together they hatched two frighteningly forgettable projects: the movie Linda Lovelace For President and the book The Intimate Diary of Linda Lovelace. Both projects flopped.
Linda eventually split from David Winters and married plasterer and cable TV installer Larry Marchiano (who had known her in New York in 1969). She gave birth to her first child in 1976; Lovelace and Marchiano were also married in 1976, and had a second child in 1980. The couple lived in a cold-water flat on Long Island. Linda found herself plagued by accountants, lawyers, creditors, and prosecutors. Unable to find mainstream acting work, Linda and her new family lived off welfare until she met anti-porn feminists and wrote (with Mike McGrady) Ordeal (1980) and Out of Bondage (1986).
“After Deep Throat, the business simply passed Linda by,” said former Lovelace co-star Eric Edwards. “She wasn’t particularly attractive, nor could she act. If she’d told the truth about her life her book may not have sold as well as making up a story that claims she was forced to do these ‘disgusting’ things.”
Just as Deep Throat is porn’s best-known movie, Ordeal remains the most referred-to book on porn. Contrary to the pleasure depicted in Throat, Ordeal painted porn as a horrifying world with little value for human life. Lovelace claimed that guns were held to her head and physical threats were used to force her to do adult films. She asserted that she did nothing of her own free will, Traynor made her do everything, and she certainly never enjoyed herself. As Ordeal received increasing media attention, Linda escalated her claims as to the horror she suffered. She told her tales in extremes: giant caricatures, black and white fanaticism. Her view on porn was exactly what the anti-porn feminists and religious right expected — or rather, wanted — to hear, and the media ate it up.
Looking at Lovelace’s journey, full of backtracks and switchbacks, it seems that nothing is ever black and white, good and bad. Before Traynor, she was seeking her own version of “bad” by doing bestiality films. At some point, she loved Traynor. When she eventually wanted to get away from him, she did. Lovelace was a woman who suffered domestic abuse, and appeared to find relief performing sex on camera. She later sought acceptance from society by disavowing her porn past.
The damage Linda Lovelace did to the actual world of porn versus her National Enquirer tales of slavery is the legacy she bequeathed to adult when she died last month. For those who wanted to see them, she made monsters and victims manifest, even if just for a moment. At the end of her life, Linda was still staunchly anti-porn. When asked in recent interviews about pornography, she would immediately rocket into a rant about child pornography using shockingly vivid terms — yet the next minute (literally) she would state that if porn helped a couple explore healthy sexuality, that was okay with her. What was missing from her vision, however, was that her media-fueled reactions to porn undermined her ideas (and everyone else’s for that matter) about healthy sexuality. She was undoing herself, yet again.