As of this writing, Ron Jeremy, 67, the most famous porn star in the world, is behind bars.

In June, he was charged with three counts of rape and one count of sexual assault. After a judge declined to reduce his $6.6 million bail, he’s been a resident at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, in Los Angeles, one of the world’s largest jails, while he awaits trial. Jeremy has pleaded not guilty to the charges, but if convicted, he could face 90 years in state prison.

A preliminary hearing is set for August 31, to determine if there’s enough evidence for the case to proceed. Since Jeremy’s arrest, the allegations against him have gotten increasingly unsettling. We’ve read of everything from a rebuffed Jeremy smacking a woman on the breasts with a microphone to leaving abrasions on a woman’s genitals from dry-humping. (Attempts to reach Jeremy for comment through his lawyer were unsuccessful.)

But a recent story making the rounds has added another layer of sadness to Jeremy’s downfall. In 2017, a New York flight attendant Jeremy befriended visited him during her work trip to Los Angeles. She recounts a harrowing stop at his Franklin Towers condominium in Hollywood. She was only inside for a moment, she said, to use the bathroom. But what she witnessed was disgusting, even by porn-star standards. There were piles of trash, boxes overflowing with porn memorabilia, and a bare mattress on a floor that was “black with dirt.” Another detail sparked something in my memory. “There were plants that had grown around the table legs and into the floor,” she told the Daily Mail.

What she witnessed was disgusting, even by porn-star standards.

It brought me back to the last time Jeremy invited me up to his inner sanctum. As a general rule, I tried to avoid his place. It gave me the heebie-jeebies, and I refused to touch anything, including door handles and chairs. But around May of 2004, Jeremy asked me to drive him to the airport. I agreed, hoping I might get a few new stories for the memoir I was ghostwriting out of it, and as I waited in his living room for him to pack his bags, I noticed for the first time the sickly plants. The gray vines had wrapped around furniture and seemingly grown into the floorboards.

Little shop of horrors: Jeremy’s apartment is a wasteland of overgrown plants and piles of trash.

As I drove Jeremy to LAX, he launched into a story about the time director John Frankenheimer hired him to do the narration for Path to War, his 2002 made-for-cable political drama chronicling the Johnson administration’s entry into Vietnam.

“John loved my voice,” he told me. “He loved the way I rapped in the outgoing message on my answering machine.”

I was barely listening. I just kept thinking about those plants, the vines wrapped around chair legs and tabletops, and Jeremy eating supper alone in his forest apartment, like a grown-up Max from Where the Wild Things Are, whose inability to separate fantasy and reality had taken him to a very dark place.

A Prickly Beast

A friend once told me that the reason so many lower- and middle-class people vote Republican—despite G.O.P. policies that are just egregiously against their own interests—is that most of them believe that they’re rich people who just haven’t made their fortunes yet. That’s how Ron Jeremy lives in the world. He’s a poor person willing to suffer abuse again and again and again because he’s certain that he’s destined for better things.

Bill Margold, the late porn actor and director who worked with Jeremy numerous times—he gave Jeremy his nickname, “the Hedgehog”—once told me something that seems like the most accurate thing ever said about Ron Jeremy: “I’ve never met anyone who’s more comfortable in his own skin and more uncomfortable in his own brain.”

It’s hard to listen to Jeremy talk about his failed attempts at a mainstream crossover without wanting to scream at him, “You’re Ron Jeremy, you stupid son of a bitch!” Which isn’t to say that what he’s accomplished in porn is enviable. Most of what’s captured of Ron Jeremy on celluloid is nightmare-inducing. But he’s the best at it. My mom has never seen an adult film (to the best of my knowledge). But she knows the name Ron Jeremy. Your mom probably knows his name, too.

Ron Jeremy has transcended the porn genre to the point where he’s become part of modern mythology. Long after you and I are forgotten, his name will live on. Roll your eyes all you want, but 200 years from now, Ron Jeremy will be vaguely remembered the same way Daniel Boone is today. People who have no idea why Daniel Boone was historically relevant—or even if he existed at all—use his name as a shorthand for American frontierism. And Ron Jeremy is the Daniel Boone of porn.

He’s willing to suffer abuse again and again and again because he’s certain that he’s destined for better things.

My happiest moments with Jeremy were when he talked about making adult films. Those stories never had a sad ending, like they invariably did when he spoke about the mainstream roles that got away.

Throwing gutter balls: the recent scandal surrounding Jeremy has tarnished his prodigious (albeit nightmare-inducing) legacy.

Jeremy’s favorite run of films was the Caught from Behind series, where he appeared in 11 of the sequels as Dr. Proctor, head of the Sphincter Clinic. “I’d do these bits where I’d pretend to lose my jewelry in her vagina,” he told me. “Or I’d be fingering her and there was a ring on my finger, and suddenly the ring would disappear. I’d look at the camera and go, ‘Oh, shit.’ Once I was wearing a watch and it disappeared up inside her, and I looked at the camera and went, ‘Oh, fuck, that was a Rolex.’”

He has a million of these stories, and they’re all horrifying. But he tells them with such glee, like Fozzie Bear trying to make an unfunny joke work, and for a brief moment you get the appeal of Ron Jeremy. Other than his giant penis, he’s profoundly untalented in every conceivable way. But he’s tenacious. His unrelenting belief in his potential, despite so much evidence to the contrary, makes him easy to root for.

Cementing His Legacy

Just before we reached the airport, Jeremy grew maudlin. We were discussing the Icelandic Phallological Museum, who’d asked Jeremy to donate his penis after his death. He declined—“I’m American-born, my dick stays here. It goes to the Smithsonian, if they want it”—but it reminded him of a story when he was asked to put his penis in wet cement for an art museum in Amsterdam.

“I’m jerking it, trying to get a boner so I can smack it in cement,” he said. “All I can hear is a baby crying upstairs in the museum. Finally I yell out, ‘Would somebody please shut that baby up?’” Ron Jeremy getting distracted by the haunting, distant cries of a baby while trying to get an erection in a basement has to be a metaphor for something, I’m just not sure what.

After the boner debacle, Jeremy went to visit the Anne Frank House. He was humbled by what he saw, but also inspired. “Did you know she always wanted to be a writer?,” Jeremy asked me. “And now everyone in the world has read her book. If only she had lived to see that. Because that’s the big dream, right? It’s why any of us do this. We want to prove to the world that we’ve got more inside us than they realize. It’s why I do this. And Anne Frank, she almost made it, too.”

I’ve thought about that last sentence for a long time: “She almost made it, too.” What did he mean by “too”? Was the “too” just meant for emphasis, or was it a “too” that included Jeremy? As in “Anne Frank and me, we both came close to having it all.”

“And Anne Frank, she almost made it, too.”

It startled me when he first said it, but I never got a chance to follow up. Almost immediately he moved on to another topic, another story proving that he was meant for bigger and better things.

“Did I ever tell you that I almost had a kissing scene with Kim Basinger in 9½ Weeks?” he asked, apropos of nothing. “But then somebody else got the role. I guess I wasn’t tall enough or something. I don’t know, it sounds fishy.”

Someday, Jeremy told me, he wants to know the real reason he never got cast. “It can’t be a height thing,” he grumbled. “I would have worn lifts. I would have done anything. So why not me? Why not?”

And that’s just it: Ron Jeremy is the sort of man, not as uncommon as we all might have thought four or five years ago, who would do anything to get what he thinks he’s owed.

Eric Spitznagel is a writer living in Chicago