Ron Jeremy, sometimes known as Ron Hyatt (his real name), also known as the Hedgehog (not his real name), is best known, improbably, as the world's most famous male porn star. Why improbably? Well, he's 43 years old, 5-foot-7 and a slice of cheesecake away from 200 pounds. He's also as hairy as a Chia Pet. And his swarthy, puffy, sometimes sweaty, mustachioed mug inspires comparisons to Pagliaccio and the Frito bandito. A stereotypical stud, Ron Jeremy is not.
"Guys relate to me," he says, squeezing himself into a banquette at Spago's in Las Vegas, taking time out for a little nourishment in between appearances at the annual AVN awards (an Oscar ceremony for the porn business) at the Riviera and his very own stage revue (off-color Catskills shtick while introducing strippers) at the Congo Room of the Sahara. "I'm Everyman, living out every man's fantasies."
Just as improbably, Jeremy has had some modest mainstream success recently and appears to be on the precipice of leaping from Porn Valley to the Hollywood Hills. "He has become a pop-culture icon," explains Adam Rifkin, a screenwriter and director, who used Jeremy in his film "The Chase."
Such a crossover is rare. Traci Lords is the best known of the four or five female porn stars who have gone legit. No male star, at least none of any renown, has made the hop.
Jeremy is trying, though. He's appeared in small parts in a dozen or so non-porn films over the past few years and is slated to work in several more. He also has a hit rap single ("Freak of the Week"), with a video that features cameos by Lynn Redgrave and other fans. He's appeared on "Conan O'Brien," too. And he's a running gag on "Beavis and Butt-head."
No, high culture it ain't, but it's a huge creative step up from "The Adventures of Buttwoman," one of the more recent of the 1,500 or so adult videos and films Jeremy's done since 1978.
"Hey, I can act," he insists.
The Hedgehog talks with his mouth full, at times, and his burlesque banter is an endless loop of raffish riffs, wisecracks, obscenities, hyperbole and, most of all, relentless self-promotion. He talks so fast he sounds like he is on diet pills, which is obviously not the case. Many of his tales from the weird world of blue movies are so outrageous they must be apocryphal. At least, one hopes they are.
"True story," he says, recounting how John Wayne Bobbitt, of severed penis fame, could not perform for the video "Uncut." He explained that Bobbitt had to be, ahem, put into the mood by injecting an impotence drug into, ahem, his reattached appendage. "Small needle," said Jeremy, who directed the video. "Like a diabetic needle. Lasts 20 minutes."
Such is dinner table conversation with Ron Jeremy.
Jeremy hasn't always been a serial lover. At Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, he had a so-so social life, although he conceded that his popularity among young women improved his senior year once word got out about his equine-like endowment and uncanny reliability, two freakish factors that have also been huge assets in his career.
Things picked up, too, at Queens College, where he majored in education. "I worked for a while as a special ed teacher," he notes.
His true love, though, was theater. "Ron has been onstage since the day he was born," explains his father, Arnold Hyatt, a retired physicist and engineer who lives in Flushing, Queens.
In his 20s, Jeremy spent summers waiting on tables in upstate New York's Borscht Belt and later worked as a comic. "I was Ron Hyatt the Maniac," he recalls. About this time, too, as a lark, a girlfriend sent a photo of him into Playgirl magazine. "I was much better looking then," he said. "Now, all I can get in is Field and Stream."
Self-deprecation is part of Jeremy's charm. He repeats an old line of Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, who said Jeremy would never have gotten laid if directors had not ordered naked women to have sex with him. The first photo in Playgirl led to more modeling work and, eventually, out of financial desperation, skin flicks. "I was naive," he says. "I thought it might help me get real acting jobs."
Jeremy never left the porn business, though, and by the mid-'80s, he had become uniquely famous in its subterranean world. Famous may not be quite the right word. He was ubiquitous, or he seemed so, perhaps because he was so unconventional looking. He also, as serious students of the genre know, is one of the few performers who can auto-fellate. "I was a gymnast," he explains. "I discovered I could do this when I was in Boy Scouts. I asked my Dad if this was normal, and he said, 'No, I don't think so.'"
Within the fast-growing adult industry, however, Jeremy began to wear on people's nerves. To some, he was simply an embarrassment, the antithesis of the Adonises many porn producers sought to cast. He was even semi-blacklisted for a time. The joke, for a while, was that among the kinkier acts some actresses would not perform were bestiality, sado-masochism and sex with Jeremy.
Among legitimate actors and directors, Jeremy is still a novelty, but someone who can be relied upon to show up clear-headed, with his lines rehearsed. His gift for ad-libbing is obvious. "He's a professional," comments Rodney Dangerfield, who gave Jeremy a part in his latest film, "Meet Wally Sparks." "I've used him before in an HBO special."
"He was perfect for the part," he added. "It was a cameo."
Even Jeremy's Dad can talk proudly about his son's career nowadays. "I just saw him in something, 'Dead Bang,' I think, and he was very good," Hyatt recalls.
Now plowing through several desserts ("Which I never eat"), the Hedgehog says he soon hopes to reach the point where he no longer has to do porn to earn a living as an actor. He has somehow managed shoots into his schedule before and after dinner, however.
"As a career move, you don't want to go back," he explains. "I mean, can you imagine DeNiro doing something like soap operas?"