LOS ANGELES — The 2011 XBIZ Comeback Performer of the Year is now in the midst of another type of comeback.
Dale DaBone, who won his first XBIZ Award in February for the impact he made upon his return to the porn industry in 2010, is overcoming a personal tragedy that may have been enough to halt the careers of others in his position.
The 39-year-old performer says he’s coping with his pain by returning to work with a newfound mental and physical toughness. This week he began his role as the lead actor in “Iron Man XXX,” the latest parody from director Axel Braun and Vivid Entertainment. It's a grueling assignment that requires DaBone’s complete focus.
But only five weeks ago on June 8, DaBone got word that his 59-year-old mother Toney Rutter had committed suicide in Greensboro, N.C., by hanging herself at the family home. She ended her life shortly after making a final phone call to her son while he was on his way to play beach volleyball.
DaBone tells XBIZ his mother was unusually upbeat during their conversation.
“And she was like, ‘No matter what, I love you and I’m proud of you and you take care of yourself and make sure you’re safe,’” he says.
Just hours later as DaBone drove away from the beach he returned a call to his stepfather Newt, who had tried to reach him several times while he was playing ball.
“He said, ‘Are you driving? You might want to pull over.’… And I knew,” DaBone says. “Even though I said, ‘What?’ When he told me, I knew what he was going to say before he said it.”
DaBone says hearing about what happened didn’t make him break down.
“I was almost in shock. I didn’t know who to call, what to do,” he recalls. “For the next two days I was just blank-faced, like is this real? I kept thinking I was going to go home and mom was going to be like, ‘I’m fine.’ It didn’t seem real.”
He tells XBIZ that his mom grappled with inner “demons” that he witnessed first-hand before he was old enough to fully understand. One of her problems was dealing with abuse by his biological father.
“He beat her up a lot. Of course she beat him up a couple times too, she was as big as he was. She was bad,” DaBone says. “My mom was like 6-foot, rolled with the bikers and stuff. But they would always fight. And I remember after one fight she went into the bathroom. As a kid you don’t really understand seeing your mom slice her wrists with a razor blade. Even though there was blood everywhere, you didn’t comprehend what was going on. Of course you go to the hospital and everyone tells you everything’s going to be OK.
“Later in life I realized what she’d done and of course she told me that would never happen again.”
After DaBone moved to L.A. in 1999 and got into porn, he says he did not visit his family in North Carolina enough, sometimes going three or four years without making it home. He stepped away from the industry in 2003 for almost seven years, traveling the world as a professional tennis coach, doing motorcycle stunts and playing drums. He also got involved in a high-profile, tumultuous relationship with former tennis superstar Jennifer Capriati that ended before he returned to porn last year.
“When I started getting back into the business, I would call home and mom always sounded like she was just upset about things,” DaBone explains. “Then I got to the point where I was afraid to call home because I was going through my own stuff. So I didn’t want to call because I knew every time I did it was going to be something just bad and depressing, and I said I don’t need that right now. So I kind of stopped calling and I didn’t know how bad things were getting at home.”
Then last August he got hired for a mainstream film called “Night Maidens” that was being shot in Charlotte, N.C. The job wasn’t paying much, but DaBone got flown in and a car for the week, so he thought he would see family too.
“I go there and on the first day I shoot, and I had the next day off. So I got the car and I decide I’m going to surprise my family. They hadn’t seen me in forever, so I walk up and knock on the door. Dad comes down and he’s like, ‘Can I help you?’ I’m like, ‘Dad, it’s me, Dale.’ He’s like, ‘Dale?’ He didn’t even recognize me, kind of. Then he’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re here. You got to come here quick. It’s your mom, she trapped herself in her room,’” DaBone says.
DaBone busted into the bedroom and found his mom with a belt strapped around her neck.
“She was almost dead then, her face was all blue,” he says.
DaBone and his step-father called the ambulance, “and I’m thinking to myself this whole time, ‘What the fuck did I just walk into? What’s going on here?’”
He continues, “And then we get to the hospital, and the nurses are like, ‘Oh, it’s Mrs. Rutter again.’ And I looked at Dad and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Finally, my Dad pulled me off to the side and said, ‘OK, your mom promised me not to say anything.’ My dad was terrified of my mom. If she said don’t say anything he won’t say anything. He told me she tried to do this last week and I foiled it and she got mad at me.
“And I was like, ‘Nobody told me.’ And he was like, ‘I didn’t want to burden you with it.’ And I felt like a dick, because that was the reason why I wasn’t calling. But I didn’t know it was that going on. If I knew it was that, then I would call…”
DaBone says that when his mom became coherent again and realized he was there “she was really upset and I was upset.”
“I was mad. I wasn’t sad. I was mad. I thought this is bullshit,” he says. “And she kind of got mad that I caught her.”
DaBone flew back to L.A. and didn’t talk to his mom for two weeks. The next time they spoke he promised to call her at least once a week and “everything seemed to be going OK.”
Then on June 8, DaBone got an unexpected call from his older sister Tina.
“She called out of nowhere and she’s like, ‘Dale, you OK? I had a bad dream about you last night.’ I’m like, yeah, ‘I’m good.’ She said, ‘Are you sure?’ And she said, ‘Don’t tell mom I called you yet.’
“As I’m on the phone with her, I look down and my mom’s clicking in. Normally I don’t answer the phone when I’m in the car. I always usually just let it go to voicemail. This time I didn’t.”
DaBone says his mom told him she’d been watching some videos of him performing motorcycle stunts as well as a few of his mainstream projects.
“She said, ‘I’m so proud of you. I want you to know I love you. And she went into detail about stuff. That means it wasn’t just skimming. She was telling me what my eyes looked like when I did that kick in that movie… ‘You looked just like your father.’ So she really watched this stuff. But I didn’t think anything of it,” DaBone recalls.
“So I thought because Tina just did the same thing, I thought it was just them calling because they know I live on the edge.”
DaBone got off the phone with his mom a couple minutes later.
“Little did I know the second she got off the phone, she had a rope that she tied to the top of the banister,” he says. “They live in a big, fat mansion house. She tied a rope, an old-school noose — the whole deal — and she hung herself as soon as she got off the phone. And I played ball just like I normally do.”
As hard as it was, DaBone that week finished the HBO movie he was working on (“Santa Barbara Reunion”) while at the same time he reconnected with extended family as they prepared for the memorial service the following week.
Two days after DaBone received the news about his mom, director Axel Braun called him. Braun had already cast DaBone as his lead in one of the breakout hits of 2010, “Batman: A XXX Parody,” and then in this year’s “Elvis: A XXX Parody,” as well as a supporting role in “Superman XXX,” all for Vivid.
“I’ve got all these things I’ve got to do and to add to everything, Axel calls with this big challenge,” DaBone says. “Because he told me flat out, ‘If you can’t do it, I can’t hire you. I need you to look a certain way.’ He said, ‘I need you for the job. You’re the guy that can play Tony Stark. You’re the guy who could be Iron Man.’”
DaBone says the same phone call was also the first time he and Braun “had a heart-to-heart” talk.
“We shared some things and he said, ‘If anybody can do it, I really believe in you.’ He said, ‘Find a way to make it happen,’” DaBone says.
As DaBone grieved, he used Braun’s challenge as inspiration. He hit the gym, going two to three times per day, as well as altered his diet, cutting out pizza, fast food and beer. He also took the advice of his close friend and business associate, Julie Wilson, the founder and CEO of Raw-Nation.
Wilson’s company created the sexual enhancement pill Hot Rawks, a “super-food injected aphrodisiac” that is certified organic by Quality Assurance International (QAI).
She told DaBone, who has been her Hot Rawks spokesmodel since last year, to double his daily dosage from two to four pills.
“And I did, I started doubling it. And I was in the gym just killing it. I was a beast,” DaBone says. “Not only was I super horny, but I was going to the gym doing two or three workouts a day hitting the iron and then I was going to the volleyball courts. And I was just shredding pounds off.”
DaBone says he went from 212 to 195 in four weeks and now is in his best shape since 2001. He is also “growing” from his mother’s tragedy.
“I almost look at it as…she’s in a better spot,” DaBone says. “Now it doesn’t make it right. I’m not saying I condone what she did. That’s just not the way you go about things. But at the same time, I think she’s smiling wherever she is. I feel like each day, before if I screw up, my parents, they can’t see me.
“Now I feel like my mom can see me when I screw up. It helped me, that motivation sometimes when I feel like going to eat some cake. I love cake. I wanted to go order a pizza at night. It made me just say, ‘You have to do this.’”
DaBone is also almost finished with his autobiography called Life Sentence that he is co-writing with Marie Lanza, who is a producer for Playboy Radio. His recent experiences will be among the final chapters of the book.
“I’ve never had anything to motivate me in life. I’ve always been self-motivated,” he says. “I’ve always been a ‘I’ll do whatever I want whenever I want kind of guy.’ But this time I’m not saying I’m going to be a saint for the rest of my life, but ever since then I’ve been really watching what I do, trying to speak a little softer. Being a little bit more tolerant,” he says.
“It’s a horrible situation for you to grow off of, for that to happen. But you have to make some kind of good out of it.”