LISTEN UP

Why Are So Many Female Porn Stars Turning Up Dead?

Five porn actresses have passed away in the last few months, and the adult industry is searching for answers.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

What a horrible person. Ugly too. Ugly inside and out.

They were talking about her openly, publicly trading insults, reposting the 140 characters that had started this nightmare in the first place. Once the error was brought to her attention she deleted it immediately, but it was too late. Screenshot for posterity, people she knew continued to spread the offensive mistake—along with the hatred that followed.

Blacklist her. We won’t work with someone like that.

It wasn’t just character assassination; now that the crude tentacles of social media had reached her employers, the bullying threatened her livelihood, too. Grievous punishment for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The 30-year-old actress almost called it quits last October; it was only a few months later that one of her colleagues took her own life.

“I don’t realize how many people read what I write on social media. I made a joke, it was bad timing and people’s feelings were hurt. I felt bad and I took it down. I didn’t know. It was a human error. I thought it was a cute tweet, one person retweeted it, another person saw it and it blew up,” recalls adult actress Lauren Phillips.

Like many adult performers, Phillips has learned how to navigate the derogatory trash talk that comes with the territory of her profession. This was different. The 2016 NightMoves Award recipient for Miss Congeniality has quietly struggled with cyberbullying and the ways it’s impacted her life. “What hurt me the most: people I consider friends, people that know me, that have worked with me, they turned against me and no one but my fans stuck up for me. I felt like the industry hated me,” says Phillips. “I told my agent and PR team, they said don’t worry we can handle this, they were so strong, they were by my side and I fought through it. If it wasn’t for my team, I probably wouldn’t even be here. I’d be done.”

Bullying took her life. If the harassment had not occurred, she would be alive today. She ended her life the day after the bullying began. To think they are unrelated is delusional.
Kevin Moore, husband of the late August Ames

Whether it was a day on set, a party or an autograph signing, Phillips shoved those feelings of despair as deep as they’d go, suffocating on the inside and smiling on the outside. Neither fans nor her peers saw the turmoil within, for Phillips knew the show must go on. “No one knows how much pain I was in. This is my job. When you come to work, you leave your shit at the door, and that’s what I did,” says Phillips.

That was in early October. Less than three months later, in December, one of her colleagues committed suicide. Some say she was cyberbullied to death. “No one knew how devastating it was,” Phillips shares. “When I heard about August I thought it was a joke. I thought it couldn’t be true. I didn’t want it to be.”

August Ames’ body was discovered only days after she’d asserted her right to bodily autonomy, in what some allege to be a homophobic stance. Ames tweeted: “whichever (lady) performer is replacing me tomorrow for @EroticaXNews, you’re shooting with a guy who has shot gay porn, just to let cha know. BS is all I can say. Do agents really not care about who they’re representing?”

“The world is awaiting your apology or for you to swallow a cyanide pill. Either or we’ll take it,” replied Jaxton Wheeler, a gay porn actor.

“NOT homophobic,” Ames clarified. “Most girls don’t shoot with guys who have shot gay porn, for safety. That’s just how it is with me. I’m not putting my body at risk, i don’t know what they do in their private lives.”

Ames’ husband, adult film director Kevin Moore, posted a blog on his late wife’s website confirming what many had already believed to be true. Moore (who declined an interview request) wrote, “Bullying took her life. If the harassment had not occurred, she would be alive today. She ended her life the day after the bullying began. To think they are unrelated is delusional.” Ames also reportedly struggled with depression and bipolar disorder.

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Phillips not only identified with what Ames had gone through but also felt a personal connection, given how it was Ames who’d been the first to welcome her in as an industry newbie. “She was the first person to remember me and she didn’t even work with me. I was an extra on set, I said hi to her, talked to her a little bit. Later I went to one of my first industry parties—by myself because I didn’t know anyone—and she came up to me and made me feel so welcome… she’d always say how she was more of a homebody and that’s how I am too,” remembers Phillips.

Finding someone to blame is pointless, says Phillips. It won’t bring them back and neither will bullying the bully. “Actions are louder than words. We always believe the negative stuff while positive words are harder to believe, so we must act on it, show it,” says Phillips. “I kept thinking about August, and I wanted to bring awareness, not just talk about it. So I donated all my tips from the AVN show to EndCyberbullying.org. I choose them because they help deal with adults.”

Weeks after the Ames tragedy, another porn star’s death was announced: 31-year-old Yuri Beltran. Her cause of death was a drug overdose. Those close to Beltran were shocked. “It was the worst day of my life,” says her close friend and roommate Shay Evans, who found out only a few hours before the news hit social media. Evans describes Beltran as a joyful, vibrant personality; one of her closest friends but also a woman who struggled with issues like body dysmorphia, toxic relationships, and depression.

Evans regrets all the times she’d cancelled dinner plans because she was too tired or didn’t feel like driving in traffic. “I was overwhelmed with emotions, thinking of things I’d never hear again—her laugh or how she’d wake me up by singing Beyoncé at the top of her lungs. But most of all I was hurt by how the news of her passing came out,” says Evans. “She was not a drug addict. She is a beautiful person and we all suffer from depression during some point of our lives.”

Three other adult film actresses have also passed away recently under mysterious circumstances: Olivia Nova, 20, found dead in her Las Vegas apartment from a urinary infection just months after her boyfriend committed suicide; Olivia Lua, 23, who died after overdosing on a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol at a California rehab facility; and industry veteran Shyla Stylez, 35, who passed away in her sleep at her mother’s home in Canada.

The losses of Beltran, Nova, Lua, and Stylez have received far less media attention than the suicide of Ames, which dealt with the larger issue of cyberbullying in porn. But many of the deaths speak to an even bigger crisis at hand: the state of mental health in the adult industry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals 15 to 34, and the increased stigma, cyberbullying, lower wages, and lack of mental health services provided to adult actresses only makes matters worse.  

“The way society looks at and treats porn stars makes us more depressed, it is hard to feel like we don’t belong or that we are second-class citizens,” porn star Ginger Banks told Hollywood Life of the recent spate of adult industry deaths. “I have suffered depression because of the way people view my job. That is the worst part of this job, the way people treat me because of what I do for a living.”

Bullies are everywhere. We carry them with us in our pockets. And while bullying is a huge problem, so too is how we cope with it. The adult industry must protect its performers by providing services and counseling to those struggling with mental health issues. Their lives may depend on it.