Born-Again Porn Star
At 43, the former star of Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones and countless grunt-and-grind porno films of the '70s has slipped off the big screen and into this little Utah town of 2,823. "As far as I'm concerned, Harry has become a pillar of the community," says Park City police sergeant Bruce Bennion, who just two years ago threw Reems in the pokey for public drunkenness. For Reems, such praise is no small achievement after his long spiral from Deep Throat to deep, deep bottom.
Unable to make a transition into straight films, Reems sank from $30,000-a-week paychecks in his heyday into alcoholism and cocaine addiction. By 1985 he was sleeping behind a grocery-store Dumpster in Malibu, where he would "wake up in the morning and start drinking because I didn't want to face the failure I felt I had become." With his two-quart-a-day vodka habit spawning drunken brawls and blackouts, "I remember being in New York one day, and the next thing I knew, I was in jail in South Carolina," he says. "I had no idea how I got there."
Long before acquiring his nom de porn, Reems was born Herbert Streicher in Manhattan, son of a smalltime bookie who later became a printer, and a housewife. Reems says he grew up "a skinny kid with a big nose and acne." After a stint in the Marines and a couple of years of legitimate acting far off Broadway, he showed up for his first porno acting job with very little firsthand experience under his belt. "I don't think I had had sex more than five times," he says. "I was scared."
But Reems enjoyed the work enough to go for another role in the hay the next day. From then on, "I was hooked," he says, despite the absurd story lines he often confronted. "I was always wearing a doctor's coat, saying in a German accent, 'If zees is your problem, here's vat you do'—and then cut to a sex scene. We called them white-coaters."
In 1971, Reems was paid $100 to play yet another doctor in a hardcore spoof about a woman with erogenous tonsils. The movie, Deep Throat, is said to have earned more than $100 million and galvanized feminists to examine porn, but its leading man landed in a Memphis court on charges of conspiring to distribute pornographic material. The case became a cause celeb that drew stars Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty to help raise funds for Reems's defense. He was convicted nonetheless, but the charges were dismissed on appeal two years later.
Subsequent attempts at straight acting failed, and by the late '70s Reems's porn star had begun to sink. "The drugs and alcohol ruled my life," he says. "I was so intoxicated that I could not perform sexually, either privately or professionally."
Chased by tax problems, bad debts and outstanding arrest warrants, Reems bounced in and out of detox centers, mental institutions and jails between 1983 and 1988. Looking for work, he moved to the ski-resort town of Park City that year, but his drinking continued, as did bouts of alcoholic hepatitis, pancreatitis and delirium tremens. "He was about as far down as anyone I've ever seen," says Dr. Patrick Griffin, who treated him in New York City.
Finally, in 1989, after five days in an L.A. jail and another arrest in Park City, Reems sought help in a 12-step recovery program. "I knew that if I didn't stop, I would die," he says.
Seven years earlier in Park City, Reems had met Jeanne Sterrett, a pretty redhead then waitressing for a caterer. After 11 months of sobriety, he gave her a call, and on their first date he proposed. Before she accepted, friends surprised Sterrett, 37, with a private screening of Deep Throat, which is still banned in porn-free Utah. "I thought it was hilarious," she laughs. "I loved it, but I didn't think it was the Harry I knew."
Six months into his marriage, Reems calls Sterrett "a miracle" and says, "I've discovered I could be one of those people I never had much concern for, an average guy with an average job in an average lifestyle." For her part, Sterrett says marriage—it's also her first—"has been terrific." But there is one misconception that she'd like to clear up. "People always seem to focus on his sexuality," she says, "but he's also great at real estate."
DIRK MATHISON in Park City