In May 1986, a young woman in Redondo Beach, Calif., was roused awake at 4:30 a.m. when three men barged into her bedroom.
Wearing nothing but a Metallica T-shirt, she still had a buzz on from the night before. But even squinting through a cocaine hangover, she could plainly read the bold gold lettering on their windbreakers: FBI.
She tried to remember where she'd stashed her blow.
But the FBI raid wasn't about drugs. It was about sex.
One of the agents said, "We know who you are, Nora. We're here to help you. But first, you're going to have to help us."
True, her birth name was Nora Kuzma. But she was better known as Traci Lords, the reigning princess of American pornography. By the FBI's count, she had starred in 77 sex films during the three previous years. That would not be a problem for a consenting adult.
But Lords had celebrated her 18th birthday just days before the FBI raid, and the authorities had information that she had begun her porn career when she was just 15-years-old. Within weeks, Traci Lords was the focus of a full-blown, front-page national scandal.
For some Americans, she was a symbol of national immorality and an abject example of what the degradation of our mores had wrought. Politicians vowed to punish those who took advantage of Lords and to pass tough new laws to protect other innocents from sexual exploitation.
Ronald Reagan and his attorney general, Edwin Meese, seized upon Lords as a centerpiece of their floundering anti-obscenity crusade. They used her case as a political springboard for changes in federal laws that pornographers must continue to abide by today.
Theaters and video stores were forced to yank Lords's entire body of work from circulation — titles such as Those Young Girls, We Like to Tease, New Wave Hookers, Educating Mandy and Bad Girls III.
Lords became a pariah in the porn industry. Film producers and actors alike launched venomous attacks that portrayed her as a precocious, sex-craving porn professional. She was not so innocent, they said — never mind that she was 15.
Perhaps more than anything else, Lords became the subject of a lurid fascination that persists today.