Industry Pays Tribute to Bill 'Papa Bear' Margold
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — On what could be described as a perfect sunny California Sunday, nestled in the quiet suburbs of North Hollywood, members of the adult entertainment community gathered around to speak words of praise about a man who left behind a “gaping hole in the heart of the adult industry.”
“This is almost too good for Bill,” joked long-time friend Mara Epstein, describing the celebratory ceremony that honored William Margold with an opening serenade of “Amazing Grace” played sweetly by the hands of a bagpiper, strolling through the decorated backyard. “He was my favorite curmudgeon.”
Margold, a well-known adult industry performer, activist and historian, passed away Jan. 17 at age 73. A memorial service was held at a longtime acquaintance’s house, along with 60 of his closest friends.
Tables amidst the home’s tropical Hawaiian backyard were lined with white cloth and topped with mini bouquets of sunflowers and teddy bears — a small homage to Margold’s famous nickname, “Papa Bear,” and his adoration of the plush toy.
Smack-dab in the middle of the yard, refreshments were cooled upon the island of a tiki bar, where stars gathered for conversation — already joyously sharing stories and memories. Behind them, laid precariously against the roof of a pool house, emblazoned was a miniature replica of the Hollywood sign that immediately stole your attention upon entering.
Once “Amazing Grace” concluded, veteran adult performer and director Herschel Savage thanked director David Bertolino for offering his home and hosting the event — despite the sad occasion. He donned a light blue Hawaiian shirt and dark-wash jeans, to which the audience exclaimed, “Margold would have loved it!”
“God created man, William Margold created himself,” Savage began, poised behind a glass podium stationed front and center with a golden mic in hand. “That was on Bill Margold’s business card. I knew Bill for 40 years. I met him in 1977 when I made my first trip to California to visit my family that had moved. And I spent about two hours listening to Bill, because he never stopped talking! But, the thing I did get from him is how fortunate we were to be a part of this industry.”
He recalled story after story but most notably, Savage gleefully explained the kindness exhibited by Margold, who considered everyone as one of his kids and made efforts to create a prideful family amongst a persecuted profession.
“What Bill basically was, was a person who never fit in,” Savage continued. “He was somebody who lost his father at four years old. He had an estranged relationship with his mother ... so he never felt like a part of something that was embraced.
“That’s where the industry came in. Bill found a niche in something where he could actually say ‘I belong,’” Savage said. “Bill was the first person who took a group of displaced people — and I say I’m one of those people because why the fuck else would I do pornography — he took this group of displaced people and he made us feel special. He made us feel like we were important, and that was Bill’s greatest gift.”
Next, Margold’s daughter Julia gave thanks to the industry and attendees for loving her father and making the ceremony possible.
“I just want to say thank you for the outpour, and to everyone who has contributed, helped or just loved the man,” she said. “I think he’d be amazed and excited by how many people showed up and how many people loved him. He loved everyone, and everyone was his kid. He was our Papa Bear.”
Known explicitly for his work and involvement with starting the Free Speech Coalition, Margold was coined by Golden Age stars as an original freedom fighter who helped legitimize the adult industry.
Veteran star Amber Lynn backed the claim by recalling a time when working in adult was actually an “arrest in the making,” and told XBIZ about Margold’s bravery through the legal struggle.
“The thing that made Bill Margold valuable was his words, teachings and his fight towards legalizing this industry,” Lynn exclaimed, hands flying in the air with her enthusiasm.
“When I started in 1983, we had to keep our clothes on the side of the set while we were performing a sex scene, because if police pulled up… we would have to put our clothes on and run out the back door while they got the tapes. And that was how this industry went.
“It was this outlawed industry that Bill — and all these people that were a part of the original freedom fighters — went to testify in court in order to legalize our industry. So, everyone needs to take off their hats to Bill for that.”
Apart from working in the political sphere of adult, Margold’s most distinctive trait, as described by multiple attendees, was his compassion that extended to those involved in every step of the industry.
This included leading the Protecting Adult Welfare Foundation that sought to improve the lives of members of the adult entertainment industry and offering guidance to those choosing to leave adult.
“He spent his life protecting the mentally ill and the drug addicted in our business,” said performer Anita Cannibal, tears springing behind her eyes, as she duly noted his adoration for the industry and those involved.
“He was a huge advocate for education and helping people, and trying to make it so people didn’t have to go through as much pain as we have to go through.”
When asked later about the legacy Margold left behind, she explained that it was interwoven with the very “fabric of the industry.”
“I’ve known him since 1996, he was instrumental in the Free Speech Coalition, adult welfare and health care,” Cannibal added. “His legacy starts with his love for the industry as a whole, his right to do business and the fight against the hateful admission that this industry was wrong. And, he was around when the industry was ‘legally’ wrong, and he fought against that, you know? He started a nonprofit that helped the talent, and that’s going to continue.”
Amongst the star-studded event was also Ron Jeremy, who spoke about Margold’s influence on him personally and showed off original keepsakes from the “golden age of pornography,” drawing aahs from the crowd.
“When I go on the road and lecture to either Christians or the born-agains, I use one of Bill’s quotes,” Jeremy started. “No one really got hurt from watching pornography, unless they got too close to the VCR and got electrocuted.”
He then pulled a wooden heart from his bag, about the size of his head, and explained, “It’s 25 years old, and it’s an official stamped FOXE award coined, ‘The Woodie.’ ”
One of the last speakers was former performer Melissa Hill, who stated that Margold’s words of wisdom were the inspiration many needed to leave the industry and become advocates for the very thing they were trying to escape. Next to her sat former director Rob Spallone, with tattooed arm around Hill’s small frame. They smiled as they spoke.
“There’s a couple of lawyers in our industry now that started as cameramen or performers that were arrested while filming pornography,” Hill said. “He’s been here since the beginning and he was the historian … our storyteller, the one who passed on urban legends and really made this a family tradition.”
“Porn isn’t what it used to be,” Spallone explained. “I’ve been here a long time, and it’s changed a lot. Talent today is young little girls, and they only care about the attention. Back then, it was a family.”
It was clear that Margold touched the lives of many — including those outside the industry. Whether it was computer technicians like Patrick Palmer — who flew in from Iowa to pay tribute — or old school ‘50s journalists like Rosman George — who met Margold and created their own radio program — every individual who spoke mentioned Margold’s intelligence and his utter devotion to friends and family alike.
Lastly, long-time friend Joanne Cachapero said that Margold was hard to describe in just a few paragraphs, but she would try.
“His personality was so large and somewhat controversial,” she stated. “Anyone who really knew Bill loved and hated him, in turns. He was cantankerous, but there also was something about him that was bigger than life, like P.T. Barnum.
“His career started with the beginnings of the Golden Era of 'X,' as he preferred to refer to it,” Cachapero explained. “He never liked the word 'porn,' I think because he felt it was derogatory and didn’t give the performers or industry members the dignity they deserved. Margold stood among legends, though he was not as well known. He gave the impression he would never die. I never thought he would.
“And I don’t think most that were at Bill’s celebration of life today thought he would ever die either,” she continued. “Bill passed suddenly, after some sort of cardiac episode while doing his Tuesday afternoon podcast on Pornstar XXX Radio. Because I live near where he lived, I got an incomprehensible phone call from Amber Lynn on Wednesday morning and raced to his place. The sheriffs were already there and said he must have passed very quickly, sitting at his desk. If you have to go, it’s the best way really — but it’s tough on everyone left.
“Bill, I think, would have been pleased,” Cachapero offered as words of consolation. “It’s such a Hollywood ending. He was wearing his Free Speech Coalition T-shirt and talking about the industry, to the end.”
To truly give Margold the Hollywood ending he deserved, doves were released at the end of the ceremony while Frank Sinatra's "My Way" chimed in the background.
The memorial brought many who knew him well and have acted as pillars of the industry, including former adult actor and director Paul Thomas, adult industry attorney and FSC board member Reed Lee, former director Roy Karch, photographer Dominic Acerra and FSC executive director Eric Paul Leue, former recruiter and agent Jim South, performers Tommy Gunn and Evan Stone, along with scores of others.
Pictured: Ron Jeremy