Eric Edwards

Rodger Jacobs
Eric Edwards is talking over a speakerphone from his new home in a small mountain village 4,500 feet above Los Angeles.

"These days, I just kick back and coast with my cancer, enjoying the silence of the mountains.

The adult film legend — the only actor to have performed sex on film in the 1960s through the 1990s — is nearing his 60th birthday and is "starting over from scratch."

"I want to get a pair of binoculars and study the wildlife up here," he says. The voice is still as masculine, yet soft, as it ever was — the kind of voice that a Hollywood publicist would label as "dripping with honey" — but today there is a weary edge brought on from the full-time job of dealing with cancer.

The summer of 2005 introduced a harrowing series of plot twists into the life of the Michigan-born actor and graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

In one fell swoop, Edwards was diagnosed with colon cancer that had metastasized and found a home in his lungs. The Golden Age star filed for bankruptcy after losing his job as a video editor — constant hospital visits had a lot to do with that — and then, to add insult to already cruel injury, the owner of the Valencia condominium that Edwards had rented for the last five years suddenly decided that he wanted to sell his property.

Eric Edwards and his 13-year old son were homeless.

Being homeless and terminally ill on the cold streets of Los Angeles was not an alternative for the former matinee idol of adult cinema. He shunned the graffiti-scarred palm trees and soup kitchens that reek of Lysol and boiled potatoes and headed for the lush pine forest and scrub oak of L.A.'s urban mountain range.

"We looked like gypsies," he recalls with a tender laugh. "We had two large mountaineering tents, one for storage and one for living, and we had a shower tent with solar-heated water."

For six long months, Edwards drove his son to school in Valencia every day and recovered from lung surgery while living in the woods, "getting good exercise and keeping the lungs moving with fresh air."

"It was a very grave situation," says Sharon Mitchell, executive director of the AIM Healthcare Foundation and a frequent Edwards co-star in the 1970s. "I don't think he realized how far down he was slipping."

Mitchell says she doesn't feel comfortable talking about her efforts to literally get Edwards and his son out of the woods.

"That's what we do at AIM," Mitchell says with no self-congratulatory inflection in her words. "We help people that the industry has affected."

Upon learning of Edwards' plight, Mitchell quietly and privately raised some money and saw to it that he had a roof over his head.

"She put us up in an extended-stay hotel for a month," Edwards says, which allowed him the comfort and shelter to begin making the necessary contacts for Social Security Disability. "And now we are living in this wonderful five bedroom house with a balcony overlooking the mountains."

Edwards now receives chemotherapy four days a week and has had half of his right lung removed. Without chemotherapy, doctors told the stricken actor he had two to three years of life remaining.

"With chemo," he says, "there's a 60 percent chance to extend that. I'm feeling lucky. I'm handling it quite well."

Without a doubt, Edwards' four-decade career as a performer, editor, writer and cinematographer has quietly come to an end. He was inducted into the Legends of Erotica Hall of Fame in 2004, shortly before falling ill.

"He is the survivor of the original business," industry veteran Bill Margold says. "He is the Babe Ruth of porn."

As a performer, co-star Richard Pacheco recalls Edwards as suave, elegant and good with a script. "I don't think he ever embarrassed himself in a performance," Pacheco says.

The legendary Nina Hartley, like most in the adult industry, was taken aback when told of Edwards' condition — a well-guarded secret until now.

Hartley Connection
"I first met Eric at least 20 years ago on a set," Hartley recalls. "I last worked with him more than 10 years ago, on a set I've long forgotten."

Hartley recalls a story heard second-hand about "a director trying to get Jamie Gillis' nose out of the way in order to see the cunnilingus."

An exasperated Gillis turned to the director and snapped, "If you don't like my nose, you should have hired Eric Edwards!"

"He was certainly the most WASP-ish of all the actors when I started, no question about it," Hartley says.

After studying drama at Baylor College in Waco, Tex., Edwards, an only child, entered a scholarship competition from ABC TV. He was chosen, one of 16 out of 24,000 entrants, to receive a two-year scholarship at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. After graduating in 1967, he signed with the William Morris Agency in New York and did "straight" acting over the next eight years. He performed in summer stock and appeared in nationally aired commercials for Gillette, Coleco Toys and Close-Up toothpaste.

"I started out well with that scholarship," Edwards says. "I seemed to be taking a positive step forward, and then I took a tangent and submitted a photo for some nude modeling work."

And the rest, as they say, is history. Once "Deep Throat" became a box office phenomenon and pulled adult movies out of the peep shows and the gutters and onto the silver screen, savvy producers began searching for trained actors and actresses.

"It was a good thing and a trap," Edwards says with a sigh. "I had aspirations of being a legitimate actor, but in porn, I was a big fish in a little pond, so I just let it ride."

Edwards pauses to marvel at four peacocks that have suddenly appeared on his balcony.

"They're just staring through the glass at me," he says. "Amazing. Peacocks. I love it up here. Some days I just sit on my balcony and watch the clouds drift across the tops of the mountains and misting through the trees."

Edwards is asked what he thinks of where the business he helped pioneer has gone.

"The business started off small, went into what would become its heyday, and then the onslaught of video, and now it's a totally different animal. I'm not very fond of the new animal. It's demeaning to women; rougher. It's not like the lovemaking we did in the 1970s and 1980s. And the women today are very plastic, very shiny."

In the 1970s, Edwards says, "we turned the lights on in the bedroom. This country was in dire need of growing up about sexuality. Everyone wanted to let loose and take off the black socks. When we became chic and the movies started getting better, we gave society a reason, in a cultural context, to explore sexuality a little better."

When faced with summarizing his life, Edwards hesitates for a beat.

"I was a hopeless romantic who always wanted to be monogamous and in love with the same woman for life and with a family," he says.

He has the family, the 13-year old son that he has sole custody of, and another grown son who lives out of state. But over the years, he says, he got mixed up with the wrong girls.

"I have regrets at times," Edwards says. "But we were young and having fun, and when you're young, having fun is what it's all about."