LOS ANGELES – Jim Starks, one of the top lighting professionals in adult entertainment who was known for his work on high-profile feature movies, passed away Thursday night. He was 54.
Starks died of heart failure in Tucson, Ariz., where he had been living since June as he awaited word on a heart transplant, his niece Melissa Sheely told XBIZ Saturday.
“He was semi-retired but he always planned on going back to work,” Sheely said. “He loved to work.”
Starks, a native of Binghamton, N.Y., had a history of heart issues and underwent open-heart surgery a year ago to repair a valve.
One of the last movies he worked on was director Brad Armstrong’s “Underworld” for Wicked Pictures, where he was a respected member of the production crew for more than a decade. Starks also worked extensively for Adam & Eve and Digital Playground.
“Jimmy was always a joy to have on set,” Armstrong said Saturday. “He was always happy, never complained. He was one of those guys everybody loved. He was an endearing part of the set. When you pulled up to the set in the morning and you saw Jimmy there, you knew it was going to be a good day.”
Starks and his close friend Ric Rodney made up an indispensable lighting team, Armstrong said.
“They were my main men,” the director continued. “Jimmy knew his job and always did it well. He was great to everybody on the set. Not just the other crew, but a lot of the girls loved him too because he treated everyone politely and with respect.”
Armstrong said he worked with Starks on more than 50 movies.
Wicked Girl Jessica Drake told XBIZ that Starks supported her throughout her career as she progressed to being an assistant director on Armstrong’s features to directing her own movies in recent years.
“He was always very supportive and had a great attitude whether it was 10 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the morning,” Drake said. “What happens with these movies that we do is that we all have a shared experience, and over the years we become family.
“It feels like he was my cousin. He was someone who was part of our family. That’s why I’m very sad that he passed away. It shows you that you never know when you’re going to lose someone.”
Drake said Starks’ kindness extended to her tiny dog, Big.
“He even made friends with Big, and how he did it was through sausage. He was always trying to get Big to like him,” Drake recalled, adding that when she started directing her “Wicked Guide” instructional movies, it was Starks who lit her sets.
Starks also worked closely with director/producer David Lord on close to 100 movies going back to 2005.
“He’s been my lighting guy and I’ve worked with him when I’ve been [doing production managing],” Lord said. “Ric and Jimmy were the team. That was his guy. He was his right-hand man. He was such a hard worker, funny as fuck, and a wealth of knowledge. He taught me quite a bit about lighting and how things work.”
Lord recalled his last time working with Starks earlier this year.
“The last time I saw him was on ‘Underworld’ and we were loading out and he wasn’t feeling too good. But he was so beloved that we told him to just sit down and take a break and we wrapped out for him,” Lord said. “He was always the first one there and the last one to wrap out.”
Lord said that as adult has gradually moved away from shooting scripted movies in favor of more economical gonzo shoots, there aren’t many lighting pros like Starks left in the business. “Grip work right now is hard to come by. Guys show up with two [Kino lights] and go. Work for lighting a huge set is kind of slim pickings. But Jim was the guy that you called every time,” he said.
What made Starks special was “his attitude,” according to Lord.
“He was always in a good mood,” Lord continued. “Even when he was in a bad mood he made it funny. It was just a pleasure to work with the guy… the conversations, the jokes he’d tell you. If you needed him to play an extra role, he’d jump in. The guy just had a great work ethic. And actually that saying, ‘Oh, it’s only porn,’ never came out of his mouth. He treated his job with the respect it deserved.”
Starks was also a big part of Wicked director Stormy Daniels’ career.
“Jimmy was on most of my sets as a performer, but most importantly he was on every set from the beginning of my directing career,” Daniels told XBIZ. “He was responsible for lighting for every movie I directed, including my biggest features ‘Operation Desert Stormy’ and ‘Tropical Stormy.’ He was liked by everybody and never caused any drama.
“He was professional and on time and just brought joy to my set along with his technical talent and expertise, of course. But most important, although he was quiet, and he wasn’t the outgoing guy, he was a very kind soul and I considered him a friend.”
Daniels said Starks managed to secretly befriend her dog Munch that she frequently brings to set hidden in a backpack or purse.
“He would hide turkey and bacon in his pockets every day he knew Munch was coming to the set,” Daniels recalled. “It took me two years to figure this out.”
She continued, “He was a guy’s guy. … He never hit on any of the girls or asked for pictures or anything. When I was having my daughter, he made sure he bought her a gift. He bought a pretty dress for my daughter and even wrapped it, terribly I might add. He always thought to ask about her and very often he would bring little gifts for her. He would always make sure no one was watching and give me a coloring book or something like that over the last three years.
“He never forgot her or my little dog and he was always willing to step up and do whatever I asked. Not once during the 11 years I’ve been directing did he ever complain.”
Daniels said that Starks was an extra in two of her movies that haven’t been released yet.
“He was always willing to do a last-minute, funny cameo in my movies and never asked to be paid for it,” she said. “He will definitely be missed. I shoot next week and there’s definitely going to be a hole on my set.”
Starks, who moved to LA when he was 20, is survived by eight children who live in various parts of the country, including Montana, Colorado, Florida, New York and Tucson.
“He was very involved in our lives,” said his niece Melissa Sheely. “He was a great man, loving, caring and ambitious. He did what he wanted to do and went after the things he wanted.”
Sheely said Starks’ hobbies included racing remote-controlled cars and camping. “He was an outdoors person and he loved his football,” she said.
Jessica Drake added, “I want people to understand that someone like Jimmy does so much to make you look so good. He was part of our Wicked family and we will miss him.”
Memorial arrangements are being made in Tucson. Contact Sheely at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to send condolences.