New podcast probes porn star August Ames’ 2017 suicide

On Dec. 5, 2017, the body of 23-year-old porn superstar August Ames was found in a park near Los Angeles. The cause of death was asphyxiation from hanging.

A brutally simple narrative quickly formed around her suicide. Cyberbullies, the story went, drove Ames to kill herself after she tweeted about not wanting to work with “crossover” male porn stars who also made gay porn.

“The Last Days of August,” a new podcast from journalist Jon Ronson due to be available on Audible on Thursday, rewrites the story of Ames’ death. Ronson’s broader version of events shifts the blame away from cyberbullies and instead places the tweetstorm and Ames’ death within a longer timeline of disturbing events. At the same time, it contextualizes porn stars Jessica Drake and Jaxton Wheeler, two of the major villains from the original narrative, while discovering new actors and events which helped push Ames over the edge.

In one particularly harrowing portion of the seven-episode podcast series, Ronson and his producer Lina Misitzis dissect Ames’ final porn scene, which was shot weeks before the flurry of tweets and has never been released to the public. They make the argument that her last scene was the real trigger for her suicide.

“When you think about it, what we were watching in that moment was the moment that she decided to die. That’s what we were watching and it’s awful,” Ronson told the New York Post. “That was the truth of it, that was the moment when she reached the point of no return. The Twitter bullying may have been the icing on the cake, as some people described it.”

Ronson and Misitzis felt comfortable coming to this conclusion because they were able to get access to text messages Ames sent to a friend about the scene.

The podcasters also took a deep dive into Ames’ (real name Mercedes Grabowski) troubled childhood, cross-examined her husband, porn producer Kevin Moore, and broke down the decline in Ames’ mental health during the final days of her life.

Before any of that, however, Ronson and Misitzis establish their bona fides by taking an ax to two of the main pillars of the cyberbullying storyline.

That story, which was pushed by Ames’ husband, Moore, began on Dec. 3 when 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?… I do my homework for my body.”

Trying to clarify her position, she later added: “NOT homophobic. 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.”

The following day, Drake, a longtime and respected porn star who has accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, took to Twitter to offer a rebuke of Ames’ position.

“Performers, by all means, f–k who you want to f–k…but if you’re eliminating folks based on the fact they they (sic) may have done gay or crossover work, your logic is seriously flawed. reality is, WE DON’T KNOW who does what with whom when there are no cameras.”

In a manifesto published on Ames’ website six days after her death, Moore explicitly blamed his wife’s death on Drake and gay porn star Wheeler, who, on Dec. 5, tweeted: “@AugustAmesxxx the world is awaiting your apology or for you to swallow a cyanide pill. Either or we’ll take it.”

At the Adult Video News Awards — porn’s version of the Oscars — which were held on Jan. 27, 2018, Moore stood before the entire industry and declared, “Who you work with is up to you. It’s your body, it’s your choice. No agent, no producer, no company, and certainly not social media, decides what you do with your body.”

The audience thunderously applauded Moore for his speech and some of the assembled porn stars wore T-shirts in memory of Ames.

Awkwardly, Drake attended the AVNs and was in the audience when Moore made his speech.

Ronson, who wrote a book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” on the early days of cyberbullying, dissects Moore’s version of events with the precision of a surgeon.

For example, Ronson points out that a close reading of Drake’s tweet reveals it to be relatively benign. Drake doesn’t condemn Ames or even call her out by name. Drake simply gives an alternative point of view on Ames’ health concerns.

Ronson also highlights the fact that Drake was not acting with ill intent and could not have known the effect her words may or may not have had on Ames. Drake issued a heartfelt apology nonetheless, three days after Ames’ death, and in a rare interview, tearfully revealed to Ronson that she, ironically, was now the subject of intense internet bullying.

Ronson’s reframing of Wheeler’s indefensible tweet is even simpler. Wheeler sent his appalling message telling Ames to “swallow a cyanide pill” in the early hours of Dec. 5. Ames’ final tweet, a simple “f–k y’all,” was sent on Dec. 4 and her body wasn’t found until Dec. 5. Wheeler’s tweet, Ronson figured out, was sent after Ames had already taken her own life.

“The Last Days of August” is full of details like these that Ronson and Misitzis dug up, which create a portrait of Ames that is harrowing, heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time.

Despite surviving childhood sexual traumas, Ames moved to Los Angeles by herself and for all intents and purposes conquered porn. In her five-year career, she shot nearly 300 scenes and was nominated for Female Performer of the Year three times at the AVNs. She was also a fan favorite not only because of her pure natural beauty but because of her bubbly onscreen personality and exuberant sexuality. She was quite simply a joy to watch.

At the end of the podcast series, Ronson and Misitzis laser in on Ames’ final scene because it was so clearly outside her upbeat comfort zone. Performing with 30-year-old Russian porn star Markus Dupree, who is known for his domineering style, Ames was pushed to her sexual limits and possibly beyond.

In text messages to a friend, Ronson and Misitzis found, Ames described Dupree going “full on War Machine.” This is a reference to Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver, a professional fighter-turned-porn star who is serving a life sentence for beating his ex-girlfriend, porn star Christy Mack, to within an inch of her life.

Both Ronson and Misitzis told The Post that watching the scene was one of the hardest parts of the entire project, and in listening to Misitzis’ description of its contents, it is easy to understand why.

“On more than one occasion in the footage, Markus forcefully repositions August, which visibly startles her,” Misitzis says in the final episode of the podcast. “She says ‘Whoa s–t!’ and at one point Markus picks up her pink thong, stretches it around her head, jerks her around by it, and then shoves it in her mouth.”

“At the end of her scene, August is interviewed by a crew member to establish consent for legal purposes. She’s staring straight into the camera, holding up her check for the day’s work, her makeup’s gone and her hair is pulled back, she looks resigned and emotional and hollow all at once. ‘Were you treated OK?’ she’s asked. And flatly, and quietly she says, ‘Yes.’ For the first time in this footage, all the camera is focused on is August’s face and she seems like she’s verging on tears.”

Six weeks later, Ames killed herself.

Around the same time, four other female porn stars lost their lives to drug overdoses or under mysterious circumstances.


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