Harry Reems’ legacy far more than porn films, says UM pastor who saw him change

Mark Heiss

By Mark Heiss, Special Contributor…

Most people over 50 probably recall the name Harry Reems, the movie he starred in, “Deep Throat,” and the numerous moral and legal battles surrounding issues of pornography and free speech in the early 1970s.  Harry died the other day.  From fame and celebrity, and $30,000-a-week paychecks making porn movies, Harry’s life took a steady nose dive over the years into alcohol addiction, cocaine abuse, blackouts and the destruction of his health.  Legal battles, jail time, mental institutions, and major debt owed to the IRS, plagued his life and helped sustain thoughts of suicide.

In 1989, Harry was arrested for public drunkenness in Park City, Utah. His arresting officer gave him the opportunity to attend an AA meeting, and he took it.  It changed him.  Unable to manage his life, he gave it over to a “higher power.”  AA met in our church basement and one day Harry said, “I knew what was going on downstairs. I decided to see what was going on upstairs.”  He came to worship one Sunday morning.  An excited usher came to me asking me, “Do you know who that is?  Do you know who that is?”  I said, “No.” He said, “It’s Harry Reems, the porn star.”  I jokingly asked the usher how he recognized him.

That week Harry and I met and he told me his story.  We talked about the power of God to change our lives.  We talked about the “higher power” and the one called Jesus.  Although raised an atheistic Jew, he wanted to learn more about this person called Jesus and the God he proclaimed.  I gave him a Bible and pointed out some verses and sections he could read.  We met several times after that over coffee.  We discussed what it meant to be a Christian.  One day, he called me on the phone and said he wanted to be baptized.  And soon he was, in the creek behind the church.

Harry joined our little United Methodist Church, was very active, and at one point was even a trustee.  Some trivialized him and his experience as one more “born again” celebrity looking for personal redemption.  But Harry’s faith wasn’t that simplistic “me and Jesus” kind of experience.  Harry’s new birth was more profound and his God more complex.  He considered himself more spiritual than religious.  God had changed his life, but it was not an end in itself.  Harry’s changed life, sobriety, renewed health and new relationship with God could not be contained.  He realized that God’s love had come to him on its way to others.

His new mission in life became helping other addicts and alcoholics.  Much of his time, money and energy went toward those whose lives were being strangled by the addictions Harry was so familiar with.  When Harry showed up in Park City in 1989, there were three recovery groups in town (including the one in the church basement).  Today there are over 40.  Harry started or was involved in starting every one of them!  His ministry in helping others to find sobriety through “letting go and letting God,” has touched the lives of hundreds of people.  No doubt history will remember him for his role in “Deep Throat.”  I think his greater legacy is his faith and outreach to fellow addicts and alcoholics.  His life was his message: “If God can change someone like me, what can he do with your life?”

The Rev. Mark Heiss was pastor of Park City Community (UMC) Church in Utah, and currently is pastor of United Methodist churches in Platteville and Meade, Co.

 

 

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
kevin@circuitwritermedia.com
.

Join the conversation....

  1. He was a pornographer whom bought filth into the world. he’s dead good, yes he cleaned up but what he bought into the world destroyed many more lives than you know about.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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