The anti-Winehouse

Why is dying the most effective way to increase your popularity? When cult figures like Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse passed away, their album sales and music video plays rocketed. It may be that death produces a defined, cemented personality – a life’s work is immortalised, and people now know what they are investing in when they claim to be a fan.

Back to Black became the number one selling album on iTunes in the days following Winehouse’s death firstly because people who thought they might have bought it at some point (but actually never would have) made that fantasy real. Secondly, there must have been a huge number of people who found out about her for the first time – no matter how big the star, during their lifetime there is never the kind of all-encompassing, blanket press coverage produced by their death. Even if some had heard her music before, Amy Winehouse’s death may have given them a chance to put a name to her sound.

Winehouse’s is a tragic story. But it is a story rivalled by that of Jenna Jameson (born Jenna Massoli), the porn star turned entrepreneur who has a history of substance abuse and a troubled childhood both much worse than Winehouse’s. At ten years old than Winehouse, she is now the happy mother of two-year-old twin sons and long-term partner of former colleague Tito Ortiz. The phrase ‘turned her life around’ would be undeniably patronising, but there is no doubt that Jameson has gone from a rock-and-roll ‘Queen of Porn’ to a comparably mundane working Mum.

Jameson’s mother died when Jenna was only 1 year old and she spent most of her childhood moving about the US in a trailer home. She’s talked several times about being raped when she was 16 years old – firstly by four boys after an American football game and secondly by her then boyfriend’s biker uncle. The main result of this experience seems to be that she cut off communication with home and moved in with that boyfriend, a tattoo artist.

As her stage name suggests, Jameson had problems with drink, especially in her early days working the strip clubs for peanuts per night. She’s admitted using cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine and, by 1994, she had stopped eating. At just 35 kilograms, it is said that her own father was unable to recognise her when she returned to her Californian home to set herself straight. In 2004, Jameson was diagnosed with skin cancer. She pulled through, but suffered a miscarriage during treatment, leading to the collapse of her first marriage to the boyfriend whose uncle had raped her.

But then things began to change. Jameson had reached the stage where she was earning $60,000 for just one day of filming and up to $10,000 dancing one night at a strip club. In 2007 she turned her back this industry, having her breast implants removed and declaring that she would make no more porn. It’s not like she needed the money – by this point her network of websites was turning over $30million.

Her autobiography, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, went to the top of The New York Times best seller list in 2004 and stayed there for over a month. Her ‘real-world’ accolades now rival that of her prestige in the closeted porn industry – Jameson played the lead in Zombie Strippers, the 2008 horror/comedy movie and is rumoured to be considering a contract with the Broadway musical Rock of Ages. Jameson began dating Ortiz in the late 2000s and, on 16th March 2009, she gave birth to twins – Jesse Jameson and Journey Jette.

Jameson’s last online diary entry is Monday, October 13, 2008 – fittingly, the Photobucket image doesn’t work. She is still raking in the millions, but most of all she is alive, happy and incognito. The so-called 27 club will never go old and grey, and the ‘forever young’ ideal finds a new home in the minds of countless millions of admirers, but those like Jameson who have pulled through the tumult and survive unscathed live on without attaining such cult status. While the ‘forever young’ magazine features, copycat suicides and inflated record sales persist, the extraordinary (and now very ordinary) life of Jenna Massoli continues. For her and her fans, it could all have turned out very differently indeed.

James Carroll