Little Girl Lost
In a matter of months she became one of the world's most famous porn stars. Three years later, she was dead. The rise and fall of Savannah.
Reprinted by permission of the author and available in his collection, Scary Monsters and Super Freaks.
Jason slammed the door shut, slumped back against it. His soft brown eyes were saucered with panic; his lightly muscled chest was pumping air. “She did not just do that,” he groaned.
He smoothed his fingers down one of his Luke Perry sideburns, absently measuring its length against the bottom of his earlobe, wondering what to do next. He glanced around her closet: Bob Mackie gowns, Anne Klein suits, Chanel shoes, ripped Levi’s on individual hangers, hatboxes, dozens of them. “Dude, this isn’t happening.”
He pushed himself off the door, began pacing the long walk-through closet—five steps forward, turn, five steps back—rerunning the scene in his mind. His knee hurt. What was she thinking? Driving the Corvette like a maniac, squealing around curves, him screaming in the passenger seat—Slow down! Slow down!—and the next thing you know, around this one corner, it was so weird, kinda slow motion, he’s seeing this fence two inches from his window, this whitewashed fence with big, heavy boards, and she’s just plowing it down, splintering board after board after board, the white fiberglass nose of her car crumpling, the awful shattering noise, and then boom! she hits the tree.
It was now about 2:30 A.M., July 11, 1994, an hour or so after the accident. Jason Swing paced the closet, forward and back, and then on one trip he continued all the way to the opposite door, the master bathroom. He went in.
The Jacuzzi was swirling, and the candles were lit, dozens of candles, reflected in a three-way makeup mirror. He walked around idly, picking up a false eyelash, a ceramic cat, the bottle of white Zinfandel. He took a swig. Shit! he thought. He coulda been boning by now. His eyes fell upon the view from the sliding-glass doors that made up the north wall of the room, down the slope toward the river of lights on the Hollywood Freeway, and in the distance, up on the hill, the amber glow of Universal City.
Jason took a deep breath, walked back through the closet. He stopped at the door he’d slammed. On the other side was the garage. He called out in a tentative voice: “Shannon? Savannah? Can you hear me?”
He pressed his ear to the door, listened.
Breathing. It sounded like she had asthma or a bad cold.
He opened the door slowly.
Back in time, four years ago, Shannon sitting on a black leather sofa. She’s a platinum-blonde, pale as porcelain, arms hugging her knees to her chest, two-inch lacquered nails, her big blue eyes bloodshot and glassy, tears running down her smooth chipmunk cheeks, past her overdrawn red lips . . . drip, drip, drip, into the deep V neck of her sweater, her new breasts, the work of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, 435 cc of saline solution in a silicone pouch on each side, catching and heaving in silent anguish.
She’d been found out, and she knew it, but she didn’t know what to do next, so she was doing the usual: nothing. She was a young woman who lived in the moment; there was nowhere else for her to go. When things got bad, this was her reaction: curling into a ball, letting the events flood, waiting to see where she washed up.
Billy sat at her feet, yoga-style on the shag carpet, his palms pressed together as if in prayer: “Come on, Shannon, tell me, babe,” he pleaded. “It’s okay, sweetie. Let it out.”
Billy never knew what to expect. Or maybe he did. She could be so childish and endearing and happy one moment, squeaking and giggling with joy, tilting her head to one side and winking a Maybellined eye, playing with Willie, the kitten—their son, she joked—and then suddenly, the dark curtain would descend, the tears, the silence, the pain. Sometimes, making love, Billy would raise his head and look at her face, so pretty, except for her eyes, glazed and staring like a doll’s. Where she had gone he could only imagine.
They had met at the Ventura Theatre eighteen months earlier, the night after Halloween, 1989. Shannon Wilsey was 19, lived with her dad in Ventura, an hour northwest of Hollywood. Shannon worked in a boutique on Main Street, went to the beach every day, studied for her GED. She had posters of rock stars on her walls, a subscription to Guitar Player, liked to dress the family dog in party clothes with her 6-year-old half sister. Five-foot-four, 105 pounds, pert breasts, killer little ass, 34-24-34, Shannon was the kind of girl the Beach Boys had had in mind, the archetype of the California girl, updated with a tiny thong bikini. She had a dozen of them, all the same: the top, two little triangles, with strings around the neck and back; the bottom, a snake of spandex peeking out from the smooth crease of her butt, slithering high over her hips, diving small and tight in front. Just before she met Billy, she’d entered her first bikini contest at the local Holiday Inn. She took third. She blamed her breasts. Her Tater Tots, she called them, giggling, then growing teary. That was before the surgery. Sometimes you can fix what you think is wrong with you. Sometimes not.
Anyway, Billy Sheehan was onstage at the Ventura Theatre playing with his band, Mr. Big, when he spotted her. He was the leader, a garage-product from Buffalo who’d gotten his break playing bass in David Lee Roth’s post-Van Halen group. Now Mr. Big was about to tour with Rush; a gold album and a hit video were in Billy’s future. Shannon had come especially to see him. “My favorite thing in my little life is rock and roll,” Shannon would say in her squeaky-cute, syrup-sweet voice, Marilyn Monroe meets Betty Boop. Her ambition, she told her dad, was to marry a rock star. The notion that someone loved by millions would love only her: Ultimate attention, that was her ideal.
She was in the front row when Billy spotted her, this real, live, perfect Varga doll, right down to the neatly trimmed bangs veiling her forehead. The spotlights sought her out in the shadows like rays from heaven, and she glimmered and shone, an angel dwelling on the outskirts of the mosh pit.
When he awoke the next morning, she was sleeping there beside him, so sweet and so beautiful—the skin, the ass, the tattoo on her ankle, “GREGG.” Man, I could spend the rest of my life with this, he thought.
Two months later, at the end of his tour, he called. She sounded surprised.
They reunited at a Denny’s on Sunset Boulevard. Shannon waiting at the counter with her bag. For the next few weeks, they played house at Billy’s, just having the greatest time. Shannon never talked about her past, never talked about much of anything. What was on TV, who was in concert, what she was doing this moment—that was her world. She seemed simple; she wasn’t really. She was just too closed off to let you in. You could tell she was hiding something. You didn’t want to know.
In time, Shannon got a little apartment she called the Hellhole, with a roommate but no furniture. Shannon and Billy came and went, he for tours, she for, well, he wasn’t quite sure what. She’d just disappear for a few days, a week, then show up again. Maybe if she hadn’t been so beautiful, he would have asked. Beauty does that: shuts you up, makes you cling, blinds you to things.
Like countless pretty, young hopefuls before her, Shannon began her Hollywood sojourn with a B movie, The Invisible Maniac. She took Billy to the premiere at the Ritz Theater, in August 1990. Billy thought Shannon looked great twelve feet high on the screen. At one point, she had this really cute dumb line, and the whole place roared. Billy thought she was wonderful. “Babe, you are a fucking star,” he said. Shannon said nothing. She thought they were laughing at her.
Said the Los Angeles Times: “The youthful actresses bare their bosoms about every five minutes . . . The morbid, puritanical effect, axiomatic in schlock exploitation fare, is that sex, represented by all that bared flesh, just has to trigger a wretched excess of violence.”
A month later, she showed up at Billy’s in hysterics. She told him this story about how she’d once been involved with rocker Gregg Allman. He wanted her to make a movie. She had signed a contract and taken the money, but now she didn’t want to do it.
Billy said he’d talk to his lawyers. Shannon grew frightened. “No, no, that’s okay,” she said. “I just wanted to see what you thought.”
Then she had the breast surgery, and Billy wondered where the money had come from, but this was, after all, Hollywood. It wasn’t until she pulled up in a brand-new Mustang convertible that he started asking questions.
“Did you get the money from Gregg Allman?”
“Yeah, and I have money left over.” She giggled, so proud. “You should see my new apartment!”
Soon after, Billy was browsing a newsstand when something called Squeezemagazine caught his eye. It cost $16. There on the cover was Shannon, his baby, wearing the little black dress he’d bought her. She had a guy’s prick in her mouth.
Billy called his partner at Metal Blade Records, who called his wife, who worked at Flynt Publishing, the home of Hustler. She asked around.
Shannon had signed a movie deal with Video Exclusives, a low-end, triple-X distributor. The deal specified twenty-five pictures, $250 per scene, plus an additional $250 each time she appeared on a box cover.
Billy called Shannon, sat her down on his leather sofa, took a place at her feet. “Babe,” he said, “I know where you got that car, the apartment. I know the whole thing . . .”
“What?” said Shannon.
“Babe,” he said, “I know all about the contract.”
Deny. Deny. Deny.
“What’s going on with you?” he asked. “If you want to do a love scene and show your body, that’s okay. But to do a porn movie, babe—this is gonna affect your whole life. Don’t do it. Please!”
Shannon went silent, and then the tears began to flow. Billy pleaded with her to talk. “Please, babe. Tell me.”
Finally, exasperated, Billy decided to try a little game. He’d been to shrinks. He knew when someone needed one.
“Shannon,” he said. “I’m gonna say something, and I want you to answer with the first thing that comes to your mind.”
She cut her eyes toward him.
“Why can’t you talk, Shannon?” he asked, his voice soothing and professional. “Who’s holding you down?”
Shannon’s eyes went wide. She blinked. She seemed to go into a trance. It was as if something deep inside had suddenly been unveiled, a dark memory that had eluded her. It was an amazing, sudden transformation. Billy didn’t know if she was acting or if it was real. It was like she’d been hypnotized.
“My mom,” she said, a soft monotone.
“What’s she doing?”
“She’s holding me down on the front seat. She doesn’t want me. She wishes I wasn’t born.”
“Where are you driving?”
“To the hospital.”
“Why, Shannon? Please, tell me . . .”
Shannon’s mom and dad met in Mission Viejo, California, in the middle of June 1969. Mike Wilsey, 17, was the son of a mailman. He was cruising with a friend in his souped-up VW Bug. Pam Winnett, 16, was the daughter of a nurse and a hippie painter. She was living with her maternal grandparents, hanging out with some girlfriends.
In the late Sixties, Mission Viejo was the frontier of Orange County. The high school had no sports teams, there was no movie theater. It was safe and clean and boring. Shannon Michelle Wilsey was born on October 9, 1970. Mike suspected that the baby was not his, but he and Pam got an apartment anyway, tried to make a go of it.
In Mike’s version of the story, he came in time to love Pam, but she was very unstable, very unfaithful. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer. He dropped Pam and the baby at her father’s house and said good-bye. Shannon was 3.
Shannon’s early memories were disturbing. At the core was the story she told Billy, later others. She was sitting on a beanbag chair in an apartment, she recalled. There was a man dressed in women’s clothes. What came next ended with her mom screaming, cursing Shannon’s existence, holding her down on the front seat of the car, speeding to the hospital.
After a time, Pam married and moved to Texas. Mike was hurt and angry. “I had been with Shannon long enough to fall in love with her, no matter whose kid she was.” But at the same time he was relieved. “I just thought, farewell and good riddance.”
Mike’s next contact with Shannon was ten years later, when she came to live with him and his wife. The couple were Christians. He worked as a Roto-Rooter man; they lived with their two kids in Oxnard, California. When Shannon showed up, Mike was transfixed. The resemblance was unmistakable. All these years he’d been so sure she wasn’t his. His guilt was overwhelming. He prayed.
Shannon was well-behaved at first, bun then she started breaking curfew. Mike warned her and warned her. Finally, he turned his 13-year-old daughter over his knee and spanked her.
Shannon went straight back to her mom in Texas. Then she was caught sitting on her stepfather’s lap. She was shipped off to her great-grandparents, in Mission Viejo.
So it went, back and forth. On night, in a restaurant in Texas, her mom noticed Gregg Allman a few tables away. “He’s staring at you, Shannon. Go talk to him.”
Mike’s next contact with his daughter was a phone call. “I’m on the road with Gregg Allman,” she said. She was 17.
Attorneys for Allman have requested that GQ not use his name in connection with Shannon’s, but Shannon mentioned it frequently, had it needled into her ankle in blue ink. The details she told of this period were sketchy. Partly because she never told anyone much of anything, partly because it was a haze. She had discovered heroin. She called its effect “the warm fuzzies.” Heroin made her feel numb and dreamy, luxurious, safe, timeless. It made her troubles go away.
She traveled around the country when the band was on the road, stayed other times in a high-rise apartment with a private elevator. Gregg came and went. Then there was a big scene with his wife. Shannon called her dad. “I want to come live with you guys.”
For the first three months, Shannon adjusted well to family life. She found the job at the boutique, went to night school, kicked back at home.
Soon she became restless. She began going to the Ventura Theatre, staying out to all hours. She entered her first bikini contest at the Ventura Holiday Inn.
She finished third that fall night in 1989, and the shoulder she cried on was that of another contestant, Racquel Darrian. Racquel was with her boyfriend and a young photographer named Micky Ray. All three had just started in porn. Micky told Shannon that she was beautiful and that she should be a model. He would do her portfolio, he said, get her a shot with a legitimate agent.
Mike Wilsey suspected the offer, told his daughter she didn’t have the background to be an actress or a model. “There’s no such thing as ‘instant.’” he said. Shannon called Micky. Her dad carried her bags to the curb.
At Micky’s, Shannon lay on the couch for days, watching TV, blissed out on some Percodan she’d found in the medicine chest. She kept Micky running out for food, bourbon and cigarettes. They had sex, but she wasn’t into it.
Then her dad relayed a message. Billy Sheehan had called.
Shannon got off the couch, asked Micky to drive her to the Denny’s on Sunset. She was going to become a star.
A black-tie banquet in a Las Vegas hotel, the 1992 Adult Video News Awards, the Oscars of porn. Light splinters off a mirrored globe on the ceiling, showers the throng below: stars, industry types, pop-eyed fans from across the country, seated at tables of ten, chicken or fish.
Halfway into the program, Chi Chi LaRue has just concluded the entertainment. The six-foot, 300-pound transvestite, real name Larry, is known as the Divine of the industry—a director, gossip columnist, gadfly and chanteuse. Tonight she chose an auburn wig and leather pants with the cheeks cut out. She sang “Spank Me,” accompanied by a cavalcade of female stars, a fractured take on a production number: Miss America goes triple-X.
They danced out of the audience, up to the stage, a conga line of porno queens, each one larger than life: bustier, naughtier, with higher heels and deeper necklines, the filmic embodiment of male fantasy and lust. Robin Byrd and Amber Lynn, Christy Canyon, Racquel Darrian, Jeanna Fine, Tori Welles-maybe thirty of them. They spanked Chi Chi’s fat pink butt, then turned on one another, swatting and goosing, giggling and mugging and hugging.
And right there, center left, was Shannon Wilsey.
“Where’s the bitch Savannah?” called Chi Chi. “She needs a spanking!”
The crowd roared and Savannah stepped forward in her $8,000 Bob Mackie creation, a skintight, low-backed, sequined halter unitard, in rainbow colors with accompanying aquamarine gloves. She could afford the outfit. Savannah was making close to $200,000 a year having sex on film. She sidestepped Chi Chi’s swipe, swatted him one.
Now the girls were seated. It was time for more awards. The presenters were two veteran actresses, Shanna and Sharon. The category: best new starlet.
“And the winner is . . .” they said in festive tandem, opening the envelope. Their faces fell. They emitted a brief, spontaneous moan. “Savannah,” they announced.
Accepting her winged golden trophy, Savannah stepped to the microphone and smiled—a huge, dazzling smile, framed by red lips. Her eyes were closed; her lids fluttered. Perhaps it was a shy reaction to all the acclaim or the weight of the two pairs of false lashes she always wore. Or perhaps it was the Jack Daniel’s, heroin and coke she’d done, her usual cocktail.
“Heeeloo-ooo,” she trilled to the crowd in her ditzy way, her eyelids working open. “Aren’t you happy for me?”
She let out a little snort, and then a giggle, and then a long, whiny laugh, a kid thumbing her nose, tee-hee-hee.
The role for which she’d won was that of Scarlet in On Trial, a film inspired by obscenity prosecutions over the past few years in small municipalities across the nation. It had been nominated for eleven awards, including best girl-girl scene, by Savannah and Jeanna Fine. The film won seven, including best picture.
Up at the podium, Savannah basked in her moment. People often said she needed a roomful of adulation. Here it was at last. She lingered at the microphone. “Thank you again,” she said finally. “I love you all.”
She blew a kiss, took a step to leave. Then she stopped, returned to the microphone.
“And if you don’t love me, I’m sorry. . . .”
After her first photo shoot with Micky, Shannon tried nudes. She liked posing, and she like the money. Soon, she decided to try films. Her first scene was a girl-girl in Racquel’s Addiction, with Racquel Darrian from the bikini contest. Shannon billed herself as Silver Kane, an allusion to a syringe.
Shannon was two hours late to the set, but when the footage came in, the director was ecstatic. Shannon was the real thing in a field crowded with almost, not-quite beauties. As to her performance, well, the camera loved her, and she loved the camera back, had the self-absorbed exhibitionism of a high-fashioned model. Watching her was like seeing a girl in a jeans commercial take off her clothes and start having sex.
Only the sex with Shannon wasn’t very exciting. Once that part started, she seemed to excuse herself from her body. If actors sometimes admit to “phoning in” a performance, it would have to be said that Shannon substituted a cardboard cutout of herself. Editors dubbed in the moans and groans.
No matter. They sell fantasy in porn, and Shannon was the ultimate sweet little girl in the parlor, the girl you were hopelessly infatuated with, the girl you could never get. That she didn’t act like a whore in the bedroom seemed to fit. It was almost what men expected, a kind of living doll to which you did things.
After two films, Shannon landed the contract with Video Exclusives. The company gave her the new breasts, the apartment on Laurel Canyon and the Mustang. She took the name Savannah from her favorite movie, Savannah Smiles, a children’s story about a rich little girl who runs away from home and reforms criminals.
The company shot twenty-five scenes but released only ten. Since the advent of the VCR, the port industry had changed and boomed. No longer relegated to seedy theaters and peep shows, porn films could now be watched in the privacy of people’s own homes. By 1993, sales and rentals were at $1.6 billion. At the low end of the market were companies such as Video Exclusives. They pumped out title after title, sex scenes with no plot, something for everyone: black men with white women, women who squirt when they come, shaved pussies, huge breasts, obese people, chicks with dicks.
When her one-year contract was completed, in the fall of 1991, Savannah was sent by Video Exclusives to Vivid Video. Vivid was decidedly upscale, a combination of a modern marketing agency and an old-time Hollywood studio. It signed six very pretty girls a year, made about eight movies with each one, advertised like crazy. Owner Steve Hirsch hired mainstream art directors and fashion photographers for the box covers, spent more than $100,000 a film, allowed six days to shoot a script. Vivid didn’t just sell movies. It created porno supermodels, the Cindys and Christys and Kates of triple-X.
Six months into her contract with Vivid, Savannah had done about five films, and Video Exclusives had capitalized, flooding the market with its back catalogue. Savannah was ubiquitous: best new starlet in the industry.
Unfortunately, everyone hated her. They called her “ice queen,” “cold bitch,” “evil cunt.”
They had reasons.
Savannah was by now a $200-a-day junkie. She carried her works in a cloth makeup bag, inside her leather backpack: black-market ten-packs of B-D .29-gauge, ultrafine insulin syringes; the leg from a pair of white tights to tie off her arm; a lacquer-handled tablespoon from Pier 1, charred on the bottom from cooking her brown Mexican tar into a solution.
Savannah had trouble showing up for work. When she did, she was late. Depending on when she’d had her last fix, she was either very animated or very detached. When she began dancing in upscale strip joints across the country, a big moneymaker for porn stars, she never brought along enough drugs. Club owners would find her jonesing on the floor of her dressing room. They’d have to send out a lackey to score for her.
On the set, she was known to be “difficult”: “If that goddamn P.A. doesn’t get me my coffee in two minutes, I want him fired!”; “I don’t want ugly bitches like this in a scene with me!” She demanded script approval, casting approval, her own makeup man. And where was the goddamn ashtray?
They ran and got her an ashtray. The fact was this: Savannah’s films outsold all the others’ five or six times over—up to 20,000 units each. Whatever Savannah asked for, she got. She responded by demanding more. They responded by hating her more. It was the circle that defined her life.
Savannah liked the acting. She learned her lines, even suggested nuances: “Do you think I should, like, make my voice catch right as I’m saying this?” Her favorite role was the lead in Sinderella. On the last day of shooting, the prince didn’t show. “It figures,” she told the director.
Her sexual performance continued to be mediocre. Most women in the industry say they enjoy the sex, some more so, some less. Buy they agree that you have to like it a little or you’ll lose your mind. You show up for work, and you just let yourself get carried away; you fall in love with your scene partner for as long as it takes to get the film shot. Then you go back home. It’s like getting paid for a one-day affair.
Savannah didn’t even try to get into the sex. One story had her on all fours on a bed, taking it from behind. Out of the frame, she was absently fingering the leaves of a potted plant on the night table.
“Come on, Savannah,” said the director, Paul Thomas. “Say, ‘Fuck me’ or something.”
Savannah looked over her shoulder at the actor inside her. “Fuck me or something,” she said, then went back to playing with the plant.
Thomas is Vivid’s chief director. He worked with Savannah as much as anybody in the industry did. He echoes the general sentiment: “She was a real bitch. A selfish, selfish bitch. She reveled in putting people down. She didn’t like giving of herself in any way, shape or form. She was irresponsible and flaky and selfish and stupid.”
In a world of fragile egos and damaged psyches, Savannah made little effort. She rarely socialized with anyone in the industry, though she did often fuck the boss. She was considered the classic ice queen—haughty, distant, unapproachable.
Probably the biggest slight to people in the industry was her mainstream status, the by-product of her penchant for rock stars. Over time, she would be linked with Billy Idol; Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe; David Lee Roth; Danny Boy, leader of the rap group House of Pain; and Axl Rose and Slash, both of Guns N’ Roses.
The Star reported Savannah’s engagement to Slash: “. . . and she’s flashing a three-carat ring to prove it.” People had Savannah and Slash “engaged in full hit whoopee” in a crowded New York club called the Scrap Bar. She was on national television with Marky Mark at the Grammys. And then there was her longest, most publicized affair, with Pauly Shore. He took her to the MTV Video Music Awards, to the opening of the movie Point Break, on vacation in Hawaii.
Savannah clipped and saved every article, blacking out any mention of her real name, Shannon Wilsey, with a thick Magic Marker.
Now, at the Adult Video News Awards, Savannah left the stage, made her way through the crowd. She was sitting tonight with her girlfriend Jeanna Fine. They were lovers, fellow junkies. Jeanna was a few years older, a sort of journey woman in the industry who’d worked herself up to become a feature performer.
Jeanna knew Savannah was demanding. Sometimes, when Savannah start her shit—“Hon-eyyy, I’m getting piss-yyy!”—Jeanna would look at her and laugh. “ ‘Feed me, do me, buy me,’” she’d chant, “the Savannah national anthem.” Jeanna had dark hair and dark eyes. Her film persona tended toward dominatrix; at one time she’d done private outcall as such, commanding $1,000 an hour. She could handle Savannah’s bullshit, did it well enough to inspire the kind of puppy-dog loyalty of which Savannah was capable when she could muster some trust.
Jeanna said she was “totally, completely, in love with her.” She went slowly, go to know Savannah as few did. Jeanna knew how fragile Savannah was, that her bitch thing was really a protective force field, that she was so insecure and needy that her relations with the world were skewed. Jeanna knew about Savannah’s passion for fuzzy slippers and macaroni and cheese, and for pink things and flowered sheets and lace. Jeanna knew the way Savannah rubbed her tits all over after she shot up; the way to touch her, to talk to her, to make her moan. Savannah needed constant care. She was dead inside, very lonely. Jeanna pampered her, sometimes ordered her around. Jeanna knew that a woman’s clit was really between her eyes.
Now, her moment in the spotlight just passed, Savannah returned to her table to find Jeanna in animated conversation with Amber Lynn. Amber had done three very good years of films, then quit and got into dancing, 800 numbers and products. She was a big name in the business, very well respected among the girls.
Savannah broke into the conversation, turned her back on Amber. “I don’t want to hang out with Amber,” she whined. “This is my night.”
Amber was nonplussed. So this is Savannah, she thought, this surly little kid wearing her mommy’s false eyelashes. She’s got a few things to learn.
“What’s you name?” Amber interrupted. “Shannon? Savannah? Come over here, sit down. Let me talk to you a minute.”
Savannah looked Amber up and down, turned on her heel. “Good night, Jeanna,” she said.
Up in her room, Savannah sat on the king-sized bed in her spangly outfit. She swigged a bottle of whiskey, snorted a couple lines, set about reading some fan mail.
It was routine stuff—requests for photos and dinner dates, words of longing, poems of lust and admiration, a big thank-you from a wife who said that Savannah’s videos had rekindled her sex life. Another envelope:
“Savannah, your terrible. Please retire. Stix R.”
She ripped out a sheet of paper, answered in her round, careful schoolgirl print:
You don’t know me and you never will, all you know is what you see on my movies, which you have obviously taken the time to see in your pathetic “terrible” life. You know you could never be with someone like me. I am the BEST/CLASSIEST woman to ever be in this business. You should feel lucky just to have seen me fuck on film. Get a fucking life, asshole!!! Save your hand for jerking off-not writing stupid letters, you worthless piece of shit.
“Yo,” said Jason Swing, answering the black cordless phone, plugging the opposite ear with a finger. It was 10 P.M., July 9, 1994. Jason was the personal assistant of Danny Boy. He was house-sitting while the white rappers were on tour, livin’ large at the star’s crib with some buds on a Saturday night.
“Heeeloo-ooo, it’s mee-eee!” trilled the voice on the other end of the line.
Jason searched his memory bank. “Me who?”
“Oh. Oh, yeah,” said Jason. “Whazz-up?”
Danny Boy was Savannah’s latest crush. She’d been in the “Jump Around” video. She was pretty stuck on him. He was noncommittal. It was the pattern.
Ever since Billy Sheehan, Savannah had had a hard time with relationships. Not long after the scene in Billy’s living room, Savannah had gone out and fucked Billy Idol. She’d confessed; he’d forgiven. Then she’d started up with a member of Ratt. She’d lied about going to a party Ratt was throwing, forgetting that Mr. Big was on the same label. Billy had stood five feet from Savannah, drinking a beer. She’d pretended he wasn’t there.
Savannah wouldn’t give her father her phone number; he’d written long letters, in printing similar to hers: “Please don’t think I don’t care. I do very much. I hope you can talk to me more. I’d like to have your phone number. . . .” Her dad prayed, thought about hiring a private detective. Her mom continued to be indifferent, though Savannah showered her with presents and money. When Savannah had gone home to Justin, Texas, and confessed her heroin addiction, her mom dismissed it as a phase.
Savannah and Jeanna had parted ways after a big scene in Palm Springs. They’d gone there with a sugar daddy. Savannah had been holding the stash of heroin, thirty bags. The girls had had a little spat. Savannah wouldn’t give Jeanna her fix; Jeanna refused to beg. While Jeanna was waiting in the hotel lobby for a car to the airport, dope-sick, wishing she were dead, Savannah strutted past in a thong bikini, another girl on her arm.
For a while, there had been Shawn. He was stolen by Savannah’s best friend, Julie Smith. The couple had moved into a house that Julie had rented and furnished with a $2,000 loan from Savannah. Then there’d been the married strip-club owner. The last night of a weeklong stint at his club, the two had dinner. He complained about his wife the whole time. When Savannah asked why he’d married such a bitch, he stomped off. He left her with the check, and refused to pay for her week’s dancing.
Slash had disavowed their relationship and the “engagement ring.” The ring, platinum with three rows of diamond baguettes, was actually from a businessman, during the days when they used to shut his office door for meetings. When she asked that the door remain open, her relations with that company began to sour.
And Pauly Shore? They’d dated for exactly eleven months. Pauly talked about marrying her, the whole sweet nug-and-picket-fence giggage. He also made videos of them having sex. “It just gets to a point where they either move in or you break up,” Pauly later said. “I didn’t want to get deeper into quicksand.”
Now there was Danny Boy, kind of. Jason was the guy who took his messages. Savannah had met Jason a couple of times at Hell’s Gate, a club Danny Boy owned with Mickey Rourke and some others.
Jason didn’t know Savannah was someone. To him, she was just another blonde party girl with a one-name name and fake tits. Vivid dismissed her in the fall of ’92, eight months after she’d won best new starlet. She had her breasts done again, this time with 600 cc of saline in each side, 34DD. She wasn’t happy with the work. They wrinkled funny at the cleavage when she leaned over, rippled when she would lie on her back. The scar tissue around the areolae, where the implants had been inserted, was pronounced.
“Is Danny there?” asked Savannah.
“He’s on tour in Europe.”
“He’s gone already?”
“Yeah, he left, like, a week ago.”
“Oh,” said Savannah, totally deadpan. She was silent a few moments. Then: “What are you doing tonight?”
Jason’s father was an interior decorator who’d done Spielberg’s house, among others. His mother was an artists’ agent. Jason had been a yell-leader in high school in Encino. More recently, he’d gone to cooking school, done club promotions.
Six feet tall, Jason was 22, had soft brown eyes, a matinee idol’s dimpled chin, Luke Perry sideburns, a black Volkswagen Corrado. He had this clean-cut, Beverly Hills hip-hop white-boy thing going—big pants, sparse goatee, moussed hair with carefree stands, backward baseball cap.
Jason was what they call a Face Boy, a handsome man-child of few words, the male equivalent of the beautiful blonde. He went to all the clubs, knew lots of first names: Arnold, Michael, Mickey, Tori, Pauly and Juliette, on and on. Tonight he was going to a birthday party for—what was his name? One of the two fat guys in the movie Amongst Friends, you know, the sidekick guys? One of them.
“A parrr-tyyy?” trilled Savannah, brightening. Already tonight she’d called four people. All of them said they were busy. Last night she’d ended up mudwrestling at the Tropicana for $900. “A party. Realllly?”
She arrived with her Rottweiler, Daisy Mae, in her white Corvette, which had replaced the Mustang. She’d gotten the dog because of a prowler. At first, she’d found flowers trampled around the windows and sliding-glass doors of her house. Then, little things—a watch, a hairbrush—began disappearing. Then she came home one night and all the lights were on and the stereo and TV were blaring: They’d been of when she left. The next day, she went out and bought Daisy. A friend gave her a blue steel .40-caliber semiautomatic Beretta. She kept it by her bed.
Savannah was wearing bib overalls and tennis shoes. She carried a package for Jason: four of her videos, several signed T-shirts, a calendar.
“What are these? asked Jason.
“A little present,” said Savannah. “It’s me!”
Over the past few weeks, Savannah had been spending quite a lot of time on “me.” She’d organized her scrapbook, watched and catalogued and shelved the seventy-four films she’d done, redoubled her efforts to read her fan mail. She set about framing every picture of herself she could find.
After parting with Vivid, Savannah had gone back to Video Exclusives, signed to do twenty-one sex scenes at $4,000 per. By now, the only person in the industry who would or could work with her was Nancy Pera, a.k.a. Nancy Nemo. The birdlike, talkative, fiftyish porn director was a nurturing sort, an old-school Italian mother who’d never had kids of her own.
Nancy called her Savvy—Slash’s nickname for her. Whenever Savannah said she needed money, Nancy would organize the scenes, book the sets and choose one of the five men Savvy was willing to work with. Then she’d call Savannah, call her six more times, roust her up, direct and edit the film. Whatever Savannah wanted, Savannah got. Drugs, food, a place on Nancy’s couch beneath the knitted comforter when she was too depressed to move. Though some might have seen Nancy as an enabler, she was really more of a hairpin; she held the troubled girl together.
In the summer of 1993, after a boyfriend told Savannah that the needle tracks on her hands and arms were ugly, she decided to kick. She called all over the Valley, collected downers from friends—Valium, Xanax, Seconal, Vicodin—anything to put her out, to wash down with whiskey. One night, she ate so many pills that she passed out on the living-room floor. There were a bunch of people over. They sat around her prostrate body, talking, having cocktails. Savannah would convulse periodically, and then every once in a while she’d sit up, start crying, curse at everybody. Then she’d pass out again.
On the morning of the eighth day, Savannah woke up, took a shower, put on makeup, even her eyelashes. When Nancy came over, Savannah was beaming. “I did it,” she said, so proudly. “Did I really do it? I did, didn’t I? I did!”
For the next sixty days, she didn’t drink or do drugs. Then she went on the road, dancing. She had vowed to stay off H, but she was scared; she needed something. She told Nancy she had to be fucked up to be slutty, and slutty was her whole routine. Never much of a dancer, she strutted the stage to songs like “Big Balls” and “Bad to the Bone,” did the requisite floor work. She drank heavily, took Valium, added a few lines of coke. “Dancing medicine,” she called it.
By the late summer of 1993, Savannah had stopped doing movies, but then she got an offer she couldn’t refuse. For $9,000, she agreed to appear inStarbangers 1, the first in a popular series.
For the first time in her career, Savannah was a consummate professional on the set. Everyone in the industry was talking: Savannah the ice queen in a marathon gang bang. Adult Video News gave her the most enthusiastic review of her career:
She’s an active slut hound in this tape, taking on eight guys at once, sucking dick as though there were a penis famine in the Ladies’ House of Corrections, allowing her body to be doused in champagne, then immolated with the searing heat of jizz. And you thought Savannah was a boring fuck.
Said Savannah: “I wanted to shock people, because I know people would never, ever, think that I would do anything like that. Next, I’m going to do my first anal.”
In January 1994, Shannon made the cover of Adult Video News, and by spring, she was out of films, touring her strip act for $5,000 or more a week. Having kicked heroin, she’d managed to save $25,000 in cash. She started hanging out with Soleil Moon Frye, television’s Punky Brewster. One day, Savannah led an expedition to a tattoo parlor. She had the “GREGG” on her right ankle changed into an angel.
At tax time, she had to pay $11,000 to the IRS. She bought a $2,000 camcorder and $6,000 worth of dance costumes. She lent money to friends. She spent a lot on cocaine.
Then the money was gone.
Then the reverses began. She returned from a gig in New York with no paycheck; she’d spent all the money on a coke binge. Her next show was in early May, in Canada. The off-duty cop hired to bring her through customs gave her a choice: Lose the stash or remain in the States. She opted for the drugs. A few weeks later, in Pompano Beach, Florida, she got into a fistfight with her makeup man, Skip. They were dismissed. Again, no pay.
Savannah was becoming increasingly erratic. Where heroin helped her forget her problems, alcohol and cocaine made her crazy, stirred up the deep demons that had been so long on the nod. At a boxing match at the Forum that she attended with Danny Boy, Savannah punched a guy in the mouth after he called her “porno bitch.” Another night, at a club with Julie—they’d made up, despite the outstanding loan—Savannah punched a guy and a brawl ensued. The girls were thrown out.
By now, Savannah was getting third notices from the landlord. She was depressed, but that was nothing new. She talked about killing herself, but that was nothing new either. “When the pressure gets too much, just push your finger here,” she’d trill, making a gun with her thumb and forefinger, pointing to her temple.
“Just hold on,” Nancy kept telling her. “You’ll do the next gig and you’ll have money again.”
And so it was, on this Saturday night, July 9, a few days before she was due to fly to New York City to dance, that Savannah decided she needed some fun. Her friends all had plans. Her latest crush, Danny Boy, had left the country without telling her. Jason and his Hollywood homeboys would have to do.
“Well,” said Jason to the assembled at Danny Boy’s, “I guess we should roll.”
“I need to take my dog home first,” said Savannah. “Want to cruise with me, Jason?”
She had a really cool house, kind of Miami Vice, a little more hip, not cheesy. There were naked pictures of her everywhere, some of them six feet high. Jason was kind of on a shy tip, you know, looking but not looking. Savannah giggled at him. “You’re so cute! You’re blushing!” She stroked his cheek, then all of a sudden raised her shirt, proffered a boob. “I just had my second operation!” Jason was astounded.
Savannah proceeded to show him everything she owned. She pointed to every picture: “My boobs look pretty good here”; “That’s when I shave for a film.” She showed him her cats, Willie and Winnie, the place where her tropical-fish tank had been before the earthquake. She took him into her spare bedroom, devoted to dance costumes: her police uniform, her sailor uniform, her thigh-high spangled boots, her racks of boas and bras and G-strings.
She showed him her kitchen, her plates, her pots and pans, her refrigerator, her cupboards, filled with gourmet food from Williams-Sonoma, boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. She showed him her bedroom, her bathrooms, her view, her walk-through closet, her designer clothes and shoes and sunglasses and hats.
They landed in her living room, her black leather sofas, her glass coffee table. She poured wine and lit the dozens of candles set all around the room. She played deejay, poured wax over this plastic skull, poured wax on Jason’s arm, just to fuck with him and stuff. It was cool. They were just laughing and hitting it off, exchanging gossip about stars and people they knew, just friendly, nothing sexual. They switched to some liquor that tasted like cinnamon.
At about four in the morning, Savannah stood up. “I wouldn’t mind you sleeping over, but it’s like our first night we’ve actually hung out,” she said. “I don’t think it would be a good idea. People get the wrong idea.”
“That’s cool,” said Jason, forever amenable.
“I’ll drive you home,” said Savannah, giving him one more copy of Sinderella.
At 10 P.M. the next night, Jason answered the phone.
“Heeeloo-ooo, it’s meee-eee!”
It was Sunday, club night for professionals like Jason, who left Saturdays to the weekend warriors. As was their custom, he and a few friends had pooled for a stretch limo. It beat the cost of DUIs.
Savannah arrived in a leather mini, black stockings, high heels, a skimpy top. Jason was like “Oh, my God! Shit!” She was drinking white wine straight from the bottle.
Club Renaissance was dead, so they went back to Danny Boy’s and put on some tunes. Savannah talked a lot about Danny Boy. She also told Jason he was cool. “Some of the guys I go out with, you know, friends of people, they always try to get on me and stuff,” she said. “It’s cool that you’re a gentleman. You don’t treat me like a porno star.”
At 12:30, Savannah suggested they go to her house. They took the Corvette. She drove like a maniac. Jason was screaming. Slow down! Slow down!
Boom! She hit the tree.
It was only a few hundred yards from her house, just around a curve. The Corvette was fucked. Pieces of the fence poked through the radiator. Steam rose into the starry night.
Savannah was freaking. They managed to drive the car up the hill, into her garage. Jason slammed his knee but was okay. Savannah had hit the windshield and the roof. They went to her bathroom. Blood and snot were running out of her nose, tears out of her eyes; it was really fucked up, the mascara leaving black streams, mingling with everything else, and she was hysterical. Her head was bleeding from the scalp. “Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God,” she chanted, standing in from of her three-way mirror, dabbing at the blood with a washcloth. “I think my nose is broken,” she said. She fainted, slid down the bathroom wall.
He threw some water in her face. She sputtered, woke up. Jason said he was going to call a doctor, but Savannah said no. She began to cry again. “My face! It’s ruined! How am I going to do my show?”
“Come on,” said Jason. “Get up. Why don’t you take a Jacuzzi?”
Suddenly, Savannah popped up from the floor. “I have to call Nancy,” she said, utterly composed. “Can you please go and take Daisy out and check the accident?”
When Jason returned, he couldn’t find her. He went into the bathroom. The Jacuzzi was filling, bubbles rising. The candles were lit. Where was she? He went to the kitchen, then to the bedroom. He called out her names: “Shannon? Savannah?”
He walked through the closet, stuck his head out the doorway into the garage. She was sitting on the concrete floor, crying, rocking back and forth. “My car, my car is ruined,” she moaned.
“Don’t worry,” said Jason. “You have insurance. You can get another one.”
“But I was going to go look at Vipers with Danny Boy!”
Jason walked into the garage, knelt down, hugged her, kissed the top of her head, avoiding the blood. She didn’t react.
“Listen,” said Jason. “I’m gonna go turn off the Jacuzzi so it doesn’t flood. I’ll be right back, okay?”
He came back, poked his head through the door. “Everything okay?”
Savannah looked up at him. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and a tear rolled down her cheek, mingled with the blood. From behind her she pulled her blue steel .40-caliber semiautomatic Beretta.
She raised it to her head. When the pressure gets too much . . .
Jason slammed the door shut, slumped back against it. His soft brown eyes were saucered with panic; his lightly muscled chest was pumping air. “She did not just do that,” he groaned.
The rescue squad couldn’t find the house; Nancy passed them on the way over, found Jason throwing up on the front lawn, went back down the hill and led them to Savannah. The exit wound looked like a tropical flower in her hair.
At 11 A.M., her dad ordered her life-support system unplugged. It was the first he’d seen her in four years. She took a last breath and died.
The expected ensued: “Death of a Porno Queen.” The story had sex and drugs and rock and roll. The media scramble, and millions across America received a guilty teletronic kick in the thalamus, a shot of human urge. Nancy cooperated with everyone. “Savvy would have wanted a Marilyn Monroe funeral. Zillions of flowers, writing in the sky, lying in state at Forest Lawn.”
Her father had her cremated. Savannah would have hated the tacky ceramic jar. He keeps it on a table in the living room, surrounded by pictures of his daughter.
Savannah’s colleagues and acquaintances scrambled as well, for bragging rights and film rights, for status as best friend, biggest victim, most-wronged. Some indicted the industry, called for hot lines for troubled starlets. Many ducked for cover. Others said the industry was blameless, that Savannah’s story was on of decline and fall, that there had never been a rise. The girl was doomed from conception, on a cool January night in Mission Viejo.
“DING DONG THE BITCH IS DEAD” was the headline in Screw. “Everyone knew that she was an airhead, and now she’s got the hole in her dome to prove it,” the item read. At the bottom of the page—which included a picture of Savannah with Xs drawn over her eyes—was a coupon to clip and mail: “I’m not brain-dead! I’ll subscribe!”
Jason Swing told the police he was out walking Daisy when Savannah shot herself. He had lied, he says now, because he didn’t want everyone saying he should have stopped her. What could he have done? Like, there was a blur, then a shot. When the media started blitzing, he found refuge in the offices of StormyLife Productions, working with producer Bruce Thabit and screenwriter Billy Milligan on the production of Outside Eden, a science-fiction action-thriller about a future encounter with aliens.
A superstar comes along only every three years or so in the porno industry. Tori Welles was the girl before Savannah. At 13, she gave a guy a blow job in exchange for a ride to Hollywood. By nightfall she had a pimp named T. He wore a hat.
Today, Tori Welles lives in a comfortable house in Topanga Canyon, with her two babies and a nanny. She has a nice Jewish husband, a former porn actor turned director. She commands $15,000 a week dancing in strip clubs across the country.
“You know,” say Tori, “I get pissed off at these talk shows: ‘Victim, victim, victim; abuse, abuse, abuse.’ They use it to explain away everything. The real abuse comes when you let it rule your life. You just have to work through it. You have to help yourself however you can.”
Sitting there on the garage floor, her nose broken, her car totaled, Shannon may have helped herself the only way she could. She acted ditsy, but she wasn’t stupid. She was a porno queen; she earned her living having sex on film. That is what defined her, what her entire existence was about.
Shannon had no family and no past. No friends, no lover, no one who cared for her for purely unselfish reasons. Her life was in shambles; it had been that way from the very beginning. No doubt she thought it always would be.
When things got bad for Shannon, this was her usual reaction: curling into a ball, letting the events flood, waiting to see where she washed up.
Perhaps, on that warm July night, in a garage just over the hill from Hollywood, Shannon Wilsey committed the most willful act of her little life.