As you know from my Facebook page, porn icon Cole Tucker passed away a couple days ago at his home in Palm Springs. Although I knew his name was Rick Karp, I, like with so many other porn colleagues, only called him Cole. So, while I never really knew Rick at all, I can say that I had the honor of knowing Cole Tucker. And I am the better for it.
I can't remember the first time I met Cole, I am sure I had heard about this newcomer the same way that everyone else had - like lightning striking and an almost unnerving ability to arrive fully formed as a porn persona, completely and utterly in his glory as a cigar chomping, worked out, tattooed hottie who was solid, honest, direct, no nonsense and yet also very wise, funny and incredibly smart.
I have to admit that I was never turned on by Cole - but he had an ultra masculine way about him that I appreciated and reveled in. Maybe it was for this reason that we found ourselves together performing on Robin Byrd's pre Black Party show in 1998 or joined at the hip for all time when we received co-Performer of the Year awards at Gay Chicago's Grabbys a year or two later.
When I got to be a host at Cocktails with the Stars, he was one of my earliest guests mainly because I knew that I could count on him to be sexy and chatty. I think I amused him and if he was actually turned on or just acting the part (who can say? who cares?) it didn't stop him from reaching across the table to rub my chest (one of my favorite sexual things in the whole world) or, the last time I saw him, from licking my armpit and coming up with a wicked smile on his face saying 'you really should bottle that".
Cole and I found ourselves shooting a scene for a XXX flick and it was a little weird - like having sex with your brother - but after I'd done enough of these (this was in about late 98 or 99), I could tell what was going to be a good scene, and when it wouldn't be. And we knew that our scene (with another porn star, Lex Kyler) would be one of the best ever, perhaps even the best of our careers.
And then, some weeks later, the footage was reportedly stolen from the front seat of the director's car and was never seen again. It's funny. For some reason I was thinking about that Tuesday night and thinking how someday that footage would be found, edited and posted online somewhere. I thought - how fun would it be to see if it was really as good as we thought it was and also- how fun it would have been to have called Cole/Rick up and watched it together?
I guess we always imagine that everyone we know will be alive forever. Even with a lifetime of relatives, friends, co-workers, etc dying, we still think that. Well, I think that, anyway.
Cole was very outspoken about living with HIV and was probably one of the first and only (at the time) porn stars to publicly talk about it. I remember that some guys didn't want to work with him because of it. I also remember that when Cole accepted an industry humanitarian award, he announced his retirement and that he was going to stop playing the role of Cole Tucker and go back to being Rick Karp.
You can say that he was first tattooed superstar. You can say that he was the first real Daddy figure to make it big. But, for me, the legacy of Cole Tucker is really about being honest about who you are and making it work rather than being afraid.
So, in that spirit, if you didn't know that I am HIV positive, now you do.
In my first decade (1995 - 2003) in the gay porn industry, I fought for many things - I fought to be a performer. I fought for guys who were gay in the gay porn industry to be out. I fought for safer sex practices to continue being something that the industry cares about. I fought and I fought. Sometimes I lost. Most times, I won. And, looking for these pictures of Cole and I was a reminder just how amazing that time really was. There are times lately when I'm very sad about things, and part of that is just about longing for a specific time. We all have them, that was mine.
Since 2003, I have stopped fighting in and around the porn industry and have instead spent the time fighting my own guilt, remorse and shame (lots and lots of shame) for sero-converting. It's not that I think being HIV positive is shameful, but I did go through a lot of pain over the years over what happened. Thankfully, I've had lots of help working through that.
And, lately, I've decided that it's even time to stop fighting myself and simply enjoy life for whatever it is that it is. That's probably one of the hardest things for me to do. Many it's the hardest thing for most people, too.
So, I will say goodnight to my buddy Cole and wish him well on wherever his journey takes him now. It's hard for me to even think that this tremendous life force - this sheer act of willpower - this man who created himself out of whole cloth , is no more.
And yet, I think I feel confident enough to say that Cole would lick my armpit, light up a cigar and move forward. And so, that too is what I will do.