04.23.12

Porn Star Sledge Hammer’s Hidden Demons

Burly adult-film actor Sledge Hammer was a big ‘teddy bear,' friends tell Maria Elena Fernandez. So how did he end up dead after struggling with LAPD officers in the back of an ambulance?

Marland A. Anderson couldn’t have been more different than Sledge Hammer, his alter ego for nearly two decades in an estimated 1,000 pornographic movies. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds of muscle—he had slimmed down in recent years from 280—Sledge Hammer was an imposing film presence, recognized mostly for his voluminous work in the interracial porn genre and for his regular stint in Pink Visual’s Gangbang Squad series.

To his friends, however, the 39-year-old Anderson, who died on April 13 after an incident with the Los Angeles Police Department, was a giant “teddy bear” with a tiny voice, the kind of man who preferred to be alone in his apartment with his girlfriend reading comic books, playing with his superhero figurines, and watching science-fiction movies.

“He was so soft and gentle and it was just so easy to trust him,” said Alexa Cruz, his girlfriend of three and a half years. “He wasn’t your typical thug stereotype, even though he kind of might have looked like one. He was a big kid, like a child in a bodybuilder’s body—extremely gentle, nonviolent and respectful of other people.”

How a cry for help from this lovable "teddy bear" ended with him being restrained in an ambulance, Tased by a team of LAPD officers, and dying five days later has shocked and baffled those who knew him best.

Colleagues described him in interviews with The Daily Beast as professional, quiet, and considerate of his fellow actresses. Passing time between scenes, he sat alone with his sunglasses on, listening to Nine Inch Nails on his iPod instead of razzing with the other men. In scenes, he almost always wore a thick wristband and a smile on his face.

“He was an intimidating-looking guy—not a mean face but he was just a big guy,” said Matt Morningwood, director and producer for Pink Visual, who first hired Anderson in 2003. “And when you heard him talk, his voice was soft and you’re just scratching your head going, huh? Then as I got to know him and I’d overhear him talking to other guys about comic books and collectibles. I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ But that’s who he was the whole time. He was just a real sweet, gentle guy.”

Cruz, 24, met Anderson while filming a movie together. She knew he would never ask her out on a date because of the way he respected his female colleagues, so she contacted him via MySpace. They saw a movie and ate at McDonald’s. He laughed at her choice of restaurant, but they instantly became a couple. On the first birthday Cruz spent with him, he showed up “in sunglasses holding a little Princess bag and I just loved hanging out with him ever since,” Cruz’s best friend, Maya Kile said. For the past year, the couple lived together in her Canoga Park apartment.

“He was a loner type,” said Cruz, her stage name. “He didn’t have a lot of friends, he didn’t like to hang out in groups. When he first met me, he told me he liked to have one person to hang out with and that basically was just me.”

Anderson did have another longtime friend, Stoney Curtis of Lethal Hardcore, a company where Anderson did most of his work. Curtis met Anderson in 1990 at the 24 Hour Fitness gym in Laguna Hills, Calif., where Anderson worked out as a teenager and worked after he graduated. (Originally from Seattle, Wash., Anderson moved to Orange County when he was 12 and lived with his mother and stepfather.)

“[Anderson] had now broken the gurney free from the floor of the locking system of the ambulance, and it became quite an issue trying to control him.”

Tall and lanky and growing up in a white, affluent community, Anderson told his friends that he was picked on a lot as a kid. He started working out so that no one else would bully him. In high school, he was on the track and field team and played football one year.

“He started lifting weights and eating like five steaks every other day and potatoes and jars of peanut butter,” Curtis said. “From [ages] 12 to 17, he worked out like a mad man. When I met him, he was a senior in high school and he was really, really big, and I stake my life on it: he never took steroids. He was afraid of all that stuff. He just had really good genetics. He was always very, very sensitive about his looks. He couldn’t handle people saying anything negative. He wasn’t confrontational. He’d obsess over it.”

Curtis started directing adult films in 1993, and it wasn’t long before Anderson, who lived with him at the time, wanted to be a part of the industry too.

“I told him, ‘Well, the guys have to have a big penis and I don’t really know how big your penis is,’” Curtis said. “We had a girl over and she pulled it out and it was like massive. I went, ‘Oh my God! I’ve got a star living right in the house.’”

But those closest to Anderson were aware he had demons. Since he was young, friends say, he suffered from insomnia, sometimes staying awake for days. Extremely sensitive and easily hurt, he sometimes became paranoid and anxious, convinced that people were being critical behind his back. To try to induce sleep, he often combined sleeping pills with alcohol, and had also tried medical marijuana but stopped when it caused profound hallucinations.

“He started vaporizing marijuana to help him sleep,” Curtis said. “When you do that, that can cause extreme paranoia and anxiety and I think between the lack of sleep, doing that, and the paranoia he normally felt, it just made it a lot worse. He never had any idea of how much he meant to anybody. He had very little confidence in himself. He had no confidence that people really cared for him and loved him. It’s shocking to me that out of all the people I know this could have happened to him because he’s the least likely person."

What caused Anderson’s unexpected death remains unknown. The Los Angeles medical examiner’s office is running tests to determine the cause, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Force Investigation Division is reviewing the case. Although Anderson’s insomnia was not new to Cruz, she says he started acting particularly strangely the week before she called the police for help. Sleeping only an hour or two a night, Anderson’s paranoia intensified as he imagined their neighbors talking about him. He also mentioned wanting to die, but he refused to see a psychiatrist.

“He was really confused,” Cruz said. “And I was confused because I didn’t understand why he was so paranoid. He was doing what he normally did—drinking beer or wine and taking sleeping pills. But two days before [the incident], he did drink hard alcohol because he was so desperate to go to sleep. I was hoping that would put him out, but it still didn’t work. Those last two days, I was really worried.”

Anderson had grown tired of the adult film business and had not performed in a movie in three months, but he and Cruz were making a living from the Internet movies they shot at home. On April 7, the couple filmed a Web-cam clip, and Anderson seemed better. They had decided they wanted to move either to the California desert or to Nevada, and he was talking about different job opportunities. “He was actually optimistic,” Cruz said.

“He seemed fine that day,” Cruz continued. “Then, suddenly, he just started losing it. He started trying to hurt himself, and it was odd because he’d hold a knife up and just hold it there but he never cut himself or anything. He would let me take it away from him. It seemed more of a confused cry for help than an actual suicide attempt to me.”

Cruz finally called 911, hoping he would get the psychiatric care she believed he needed; police arrived at their apartment on April 8 at 3:24 a.m. According to LAPD spokesman Lt. Andrew Neiman, the officers determined that Anderson needed to be medically evaluated. The Los Angeles Fire Department ambulance arrived at 3:41 a.m., Neiman said. Anderson left “peacefully” with them, according to Cruz.

“He just kept telling them he was very tired over and over again,” Cruz said. “I told them, too, that he was very out of it and needs to be put down to sleep because he’s so exhausted. He was very calm and cooperated with them.”

At 3:59 a.m., the ambulance left Canoga Park en route to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, with Anderson on a gurney, Neiman said. Anderson’s right hand was cuffed to the right side of the gurney and his left hand on the left. Riding in the ambulance were a police officer, the driver, and a paramedic.

“Suddenly, Mr. Anderson sat up on the gurney in sort of a bizarre manner and would not lay back down,” Neiman said. “He appeared to become agitated. They tried to calm him down and he progressively became more aggressive and resistant to the point where he was trying to actually stand up with the gurney. He was able to break open one of the handcuffs from the railing.”

At 4:07 a.m. with the police officer and paramedic unable to control Anderson, the driver pulled over, Neiman said. The officer’s partner, who was following in a patrol car, opened the back door and saw his partner holding Anderson “in a bear hug around his chest trying to get him back down on the gurney with very little effect.

“Mr. Anderson was very strong—a big guy, very, very strong,” Neiman said. “At that point, the partner officer attempted to use the Taser in what we call the ‘contact mode,’ meaning it didn’t deploy the darts. There was no effect on Mr. Anderson. He had now broken the gurney free from the floor of the locking system of the ambulance, and it became quite an issue trying to control him. That’s a dangerous situation in the back of an ambulance like that.”

The officers requested backup at 4:11 a.m., and six to eight officers responded. They removed Anderson from the ambulance, but were still having difficulty controlling him “because of his extraordinary strength” so they Tasered Anderson a second time, Neiman said.

“Again, that did not work and ultimately the officers were able to overpower him with sheer body weight and firm grips and were able to get him under control again and back into the ambulance on the gurney,” Neiman said. “They continued back on to the hospital.”

The ambulance arrived at Northridge Hospital Medical Center at 4:29 a.m. but what happened next is a mystery to Anderson’s friends and family. By the time Cruz visited her boyfriend later that day, Anderson had slipped into a coma and was in critical condition in ICU.

“I was completely shocked because I expected him to be in a 72-hour hold for mental illness,” Cruz said. “I was very surprised to see him in a coma. They told me he had brain damage and that they were not sure if he was going to wake up or not.”

The police department is not disclosing Anderson’s condition when he arrived at the hospital. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department and a hospital spokeswoman declined to do so as well, citing privacy laws.

Anderson died on April 13, after his mother took him off a respirator. She declined to be interviewed by The Daily Beast.

“The fact is that the thing that made him want to get big is probably the same thing that took his life,” Curtis said. “He was so large and intimidating but yet he was just a kind, gentle teddy bear on the inside. You’d have a hard time finding anyone in the industry that would have anything negative to say about him. But to the police, they probably saw him as a big threat. I don’t think anyone went out to hurt him on purpose. I just think this all went in a bad direction because they didn’t know him.”