VAN NUYS, Calif. — The adult entertainment community came out in force on Friday for what became a moving “Celebration of the Life” for beloved industry leader Christian Mann.
The diverse gathering underlined the remarkable imprint Mann left, as 500-plus friends, colleagues and family members stood united inside the grand ballroom at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in honor of the man whose career spanned more than 34 years.
Purple and white flower arrangements adorned each of the round tables, which had a program titled “Christian: In Words And Pictures” at every seat. Three large video screens played a slideshow of personal photos from Mann’s life — including the early years, recent months and everything in between. And music from Mann’s favorite band The Beatles played softly as the crowd filed in.
AVN founder Paul Fishbein and Vivid co-chairman Steven Hirsch — two of his closest friends — hosted the memorial, which lasted almost three hours as about two dozen speakers took the podium to share remembrances of Mann, who died on July 30 at age 53 after a 19-month battle with cancer.
“He would have loved this,” Fishbein said. “In fact, he wanted this. And as many of you know everything today was orchestrated by Christian himself. He wanted me to do this. He demanded it and he orchestrated every minute of it.”
Fishbein told the room that Mann first asked him to deliver his eulogy shortly after his diagnosis about a year-and-a-half ago, adding that he even selected the menu for the gathering.
“Christian is the best person many of you will ever know. I know he’s the best person I’ve ever known,” Fishbein continued. “But he didn’t want us to dwell on the disease, because he lived through it without any self-pity. There’s going to be a lot of words spoken today and they’re all true.
“Things Christian and I always talked about was living in the now, which he did as well as anybody. There have been books written about it, but he really lived in the now.”
Mann most recently had been the general manager at Evil Angel Video and president of the Free Speech Coalition during a prolific run that also included heading the ethnic porn pioneer, Video Team, for 12 years and holding executive roles at Metro Media, California Publishers Liquidating Corp (CPLC) and Catalina Video.
But Fishbein highlighted the more personal stories, such as when his dog ate Mann’s shoes, the 15 football road trips, regular card games and fantasy football leagues.
“And our movie class at UCLA and a bunch of stuff I can’t really talk about,” Fishbein added with a grin. “He was always truly present — as he would say — and the most consistent person in my life for the last 30 years except for my family. I love Christian. I’ve never had a brother, but that’s who he felt like to me.”
Then he introduced a special video interview that veteran producers Cass Paley and Luc Wylder shot with Mann in 2013 about a month after his diagnosis. The interview is intended for a documentary that Paley is producing, Fishbein noted.
“I don’t think there’s any words anyone could write or say that could describe Christian any better than he does in his own words,” Fishbein said before playing the clip. “He’s one of a kind. It’s five minutes, but it’s the best five minutes you’ll hear today.”
In the interview Mann talked about how his parents gave him an interest in “literature, culture and the human condition” and how after he got sober at age 27 that he met men who taught him “how to live a principled life.”
“While I’m giving it my fight, that watershed moment that happened almost 25 years ago is making it possible for me today to do it without an inordinate amount of fear,” Mann said. “To do it in a way that makes me feel purposeful and of service not just to myself but to the people I love. And to not cheat this day out of its value because of a fear of what’s going to happen tomorrow.
“So I’m living my life now not just with a sense of purpose, but with a sense of joy.”
Mann continued, “My interpretation of what a higher power is, and I’m not getting into what it means for others, but my interpretation and what it means to me is the thing that wants me to be joyous, happy, free and to be of service to others in that same pursuit.
“And there was a time in my life when I felt useless and I can tell you today I feel useful.”
Mann concluded the interview saying, “And it’s all good. One sentence I would like to just say is that he loved life and he loved people.”
As the screen faded to black, the ballroom erupted in applause.
Several more speakers shared colorful memories of Mann, including his brother Jason, sister Melissa Villaneuva and his attorney Paul Cambria.
“Christian was the kind of individual when in the adult industry if there were issues and problems, Christian was one of the first people you’d go to because he had the ability to articulate the issue and he had the ability to meet with people and arbitrate the problems,” Cambria said.
Good Vibrations President Joel Kaminsky told the audience how he formed a special bond with Mann over AA and how in recent months he told Mann “how proud I was of him during this battle.” But in typical Mann fashion, he would only counter by saying he “owed it to guys like me,” Kaminsky said.
“He deflected all the time. His humility wreaked out of every pore,” Kaminsky told the gathering.
Gay porn executive and personality, Chi Chi LaRue, brought some levity to the room with an animated, lively tribute after revealing that 28 years ago Mann gave him his shot in porn — for which he is forever grateful.
Then later adult star Julia Ann shared a tearful remembrance.
“Every time I saw him at a show it automatically filled me with pride just knowing he was in our business,” Julia Ann said, sobbing at the podium. “He always made me love the industry even more.”
Two of Mann’s friends — Joey Wilson and Sandy Hart — told the audience how they went to high school with Mann and had known him since he was 16.
“He’s been my brother ever since,” said Wilson, the veteran industry executive.
Hart said that Mann “knew the answers to everything.”
“He knew the words to every song. He knew every Monty Python show. Christian was the smartest and funniest person I ever knew,” she added.
Evil Angel owner John Stagliano told the crowd that Mann was “the first person I thought of” when he needed to hire a general manager in 2008.
“It was wonderful working together with him,” Stagliano said.
Evil Angel director Rocco Siffredi filmed a short video tribute to Mann from his home in Budapest, telling Stagliano that “you lost 100 people in your company” with Mann’s absence.
“One of the most incredible guys in the history of this business,” said the Italian superstar.
After Vivid’s Hirsch played the song “You’re Missing” by Bruce Springsteen, who was another of Mann’s favorite artists, he introduced Mann’s wife Melissa as “an angel and one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”
Melissa received a standing ovation as she approached the podium.
“It has been a ride — a crazy, terrible, exhilarating, beautiful, painful, adrenaline-drenched, life-changing ride,” Melissa Mann said in prefacing what turned into a charming, funny and heartfelt speech.
Melissa shared stories ranging from her first date with Mann to his taste for 70s guitar rock, to their intellectual conversations and the way she admired his courage to fight the disease.
She went on to talk about her husband’s tireless work ethic and his “passion for perfection.”
“It’s part of what gave him his incredible energy,” Melissa said. “His attention span was short, but his list of things to do was long.”
Calling Christian “the love of my life,” she thanked all in attendance for their support and encouraged his friends to “take me to dinner” and tell her more about Christian’s travels before they met face-to-face in December, 2010.
“I’m a cheap date, I promise,” she joked, before leaving the stage to another standing ovation.
In an emotional closing address, Steven Hirsch first expressed his admiration and gratitude for Melissa and Christian’s brother and sister for standing by him until the end along with his inner circle of friends. He also spoke to Christian’s three adult sons who were in attendance.
“Your father was a great man, a great friend… but most of all, a kind and understanding father,” Hirsch said.
Then Hirsch, fighting back tears, read a letter that he wrote to Mann.
“Thirty years, it all went so fast,” Hirsch began.
He talked about how Mann refused to give up his battle and vowed to not “sweat the small things” after his diagnosis.
“And you didn’t and I admired that about you. Still do. Always will. You never felt sorry for yourself, even when it got towards the end,” Hirsch said. “You handled it with courage, with dignity and with grace. I just don’t know how you woke up every morning knowing you were going to die. I never asked you. And through it all, you never lost your sense of humor.”
Hirsch continued, “I’m grateful to have known you and shared so much of my life with you. All the memories will live with me forever. Good night my friend. Goodbye my friend.”
Then Hirsch asked all those at the gathering to “remember how he wanted to just make us all happy and comfortable. How he made us a better person.”
“Let’s stand up and put our arms around each other and remember Christian,” Hirsch said.
And everyone did, before sharing in one last moment of silence in honor of Mann.