Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Traci Lords

Rise and Fall

Lords quickly became a star, with top billing on a string of films made in 1985 and '86, when she won several porn Oscars.

Porn videophiles have counted more than 100 Traci Lords titles. She claims she did fewer than 30 porn video shoots. Sex scenes were cut, spliced and repackaged repeatedly.

Her final film, Traci, I Love You, was shot in Paris on May 8, 1986, the day after her 18th birthday. It was her only legal porno movie.

Traci Lords, recent photo
Traci Lords, recent photo

Lords estimates she earned just $35,000 during her years in porn. Producers say the total was more than $1 million. She says the years are a hazy blur from the vodka she drank and cocaine she snorted to cope. According to Lords, she was addicted to both by the date of the FBI raid, a few days after she returned from France.

Her arrest prompted Lords to take stock of her young life. She weighed just 90 pounds. She was ashamed of the attention she had brought on her mother and three sisters.

Lords said she apologized to her family, checked into a drug and alcohol rehab program and hired a therapist "because I was literally losing my mind." She was never charged with a crime. She cooperated with law enforcement, providing details of her contacts with producers, Jim South and others in the porno industry.

She caused a spotlight to shine on the porn business, which until then had enjoyed a low public profile. Authorities served search warrants and subpoenas at pornography production, marketing and distribution firms on the east and west coasts.

South and two producers were indicted for sexual exploitation of a minor, and the government tried to build a federal racketeering case against those who knowingly utilized underage talent in their porn productions. They beat the case, although they say they spent more than $1 million doing so.

The Lords videotapes were declared a violation of child pornography laws, and federal government ordered them pulled from circulation and destroyed, costing the porn industry millions of dollars.

The lone criminal conviction was against Rubin Gottesman, owner of X-Citement Video of Van Nuys, Calif., who was convicted of "knowingly" shipping Lords videos in violation of the federal order. Gottesman appealed, arguing that the language of the law was confusing. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 1994.

Gottesman apparently was not the only one to ignore the order to destroy the Lords tapes, however. A black market for Lords videotapes thrives today, and her blue work is readily available in parts of Europe, where the minimum legal age for pornographic work is younger.

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