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The life and death of a pornstar

Nicholas Hulme explores how a gay porn star became a Japanese cultural icon and secured his place in the annals of internet history.

billy herrington sized

On the 2nd of March, the Friday before last, the internet lost one of its most prominent underground cultural icons. Billy Herrington, a former gay adult film star, was killed in a car accident in southern California. Death is always a bit of a sad affair. But for many of you, Herrington’s death likely evokes little emotional reaction—somewhere in between hearing that the price of soft serves at McDonald’s has gone up by 10 cents and realising you are out of butter after you’ve already put bread in the toaster.

Herrington’s life, however, cannot be glossed over as easily as his tragic but unremarkable death. Herrington began his life in the adult film industry during the late 1990s, appearing in 17 prominent gay pornography films and becoming one of the most recognised faces of gay porn during his decade-long career. It was not until 2007, after his career had ended, that Billy’s life began to veer into the realm of the bizarre.

A clip starring Billy titled ‘Professional Pants Wrestling’ became wildly popular on the Japanese video sharing site niconico, accumulating over 8 million views. Following the immense and surprising popularity of this video, montages and mashups of various American gay adult films from the 90s began to gain traction across Japanese video sharing sites and message boards.

Many of these mashups were accompanied by soundtracks consisting of soundbites of gay porn, often autotuned and edited to vaguely resemble homoerotic plunderphonics. Today, over 110,000 thousand of these ‘gachimuchi’ or ‘gachi’ videos can be found on YouTube.

As the prevalence of gachi grew, so did Billy’s fame across Japan and the stranger sites of the internet. In 2009, niconico held an event where Billy, referred to fondly as Aniki or ‘Older Brother’, was invited to perform onstage. While relatively unknown at home in the US, Billy was filling up stadiums of 10,000 people across Japan and China. Thousands of people would come to witness the meme come to life. Several limited edition action figures have been released across Japan, and his likeness appeared in the Chinese video game Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

A cult following developed in countries outside of East Asia, such as Russia. A fandom eventually developed in Western countries through message boards like 4chan, blogsites such as Tumblr, and some of the most popular channels on the streaming behemoth Twitch.tv.

Billy’s death provoked an outpouring of grief from the underground of the internet, with hundreds of tribute videos appearing across video sharing sites and message boards. A tribute video to Billy on niconico accumulated over 80 000 views in less than seven days. Billy often commended his fans on their arduous editing work, so it seems appropriate that he has been sent off to the fanfare of autotuned spanks and groans.

Sleep tight, Aniki.