Porn star/actress Marilyn Chambers is dead at 56. She was found April 12 in her Southern California home by her 17-year-old daughter, McKenna Marie Taylor. Chambers is also survived by her brother, Bill Briggs, and her sister, Jann Smith.
But, sadly, news of her death barely made a blip on the Las Vegas virtually anything goes entertainment news radar.
Las Vegas Backstage Access waited and waited for something to appear, then decided an article was in order on the verge of her birthday. After all, she is credited for bringing pornographic films into the mainstream and, in so doing, substantially added to Las Vegas’ colorful and alluring mystique.
Born Marilyn Ann Briggs on April 22, 1952 in Providence, Rhode Island, Chambers was an attractive, effervescent young woman who had begun her career as a mainstream model and actress, finding fame as the smiling blonde cuddling a laughing, nappy-clad baby on Ivory Snow ads, a popular brand of detergent. When she then appeared in an adult film featuring hard-core inter-racial sex, Procter & Gamble, whose products were claimed to be “100% pure,” quickly pulled the boxes from the shelves.
Though the manufacturer quickly replaced her, it was later discovered that she also had a small role in the 1970 Barbara Streisand film “The Owl and the Pussycat.”
Chambers traded her wholesome image as an all-American pin-up girl for notoriety as a porn star, credited with bringing hard-core adult films into the mainstream consciousness when she starred in the explicit very low-budget 1972 movie “Behind the Green Door.”
Chambers was the first crossover adult movie star.
Chambers, also known as Marilyn Ann Taylor, and then-husband/manager Chuck Traynor were fairly high-profile Las Vegas residents during the 1980s, when they co-owned a local gun and survival store, The Survival Store, backing operating partner Bob Irwin in the gun store and shooting range at Interstate 15 and Spring Mountain Road in Las Vegas.
It was Chambers that popularized the “machine gun and bikini” image used to promote the store – a similar ploy used even today by gun stores around the country – for several years before she separated from Traynor, who was controversial for his earlier marriage to porn star Linda Lovelace (Linda Susan Boreman) and her allegations of abuse.
Chambers and fellow actresses Linda Lovelace and Georgina Spelvin skyrocketed to fame and stardom at this time when both American social mores and the quality of hard-core sex films were changing.
For the first time, films like “Behind the Green Door” and “Deep Throat” (also released in 1972 and starring Lovelace) had decent acting and legitimate, albeit fairly thin plots. As the audiences for them grew to include couples, they also began to take on higher production values and to be seen in places other than sleazy theaters.
She followed the “Green Door” film with other hard-core films “Resurrection of Eve,” in 1973 and “Inside Marilyn Chambers” in 1975. Then she announced in 1976 that she was giving up adult films to pursue other interests. She starred in the 1977 horror movie “Rabid” and to put together a song-and-dance show that played Las Vegas and elsewhere. After this, the rest of her career she spent shuffling between sex and horror flicks.
In October 1974, Chambers performed in the dinner-theater comedy “Mind With the Dirty Man” at Las Vegas’ Union Plaza (in reference to the Union Pacific railroad station that originally stood at the site now known as the Plaza Hotel and Casino). It was at this period she was attempting to spin her notoriety into non-porn endeavors, with plaza owners including the likes of prominent Las Vegas businessmen Sam Boyd, Howard Cannon and Jackie Gaughan. She returned to the Plaza stage in early 1978 for “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”
But by 1979, Chambers was back acting in sex films and onstage for a short-lived engagement in the one-woman show “Sex Surrogate” at the Jolly Trolley casino in Las Vegas. The show drew the quick ire of Las Vegas officials because full nudity is banned in casinos with unrestricted gaming.
In 1981, Chambers became a fulltime Clark County Nevada resident and known well-known enough that a routine summons for jury duty caused a courthouse stir and generated newspaper coverage. She was dismissed after explaining to the judge, “I’m an entertainer and I have to be in Cleveland Wednesday for an engagement.”
Chambers, married and divorced three times, remained in Las Vegas through the 1980s after her separation from Traynor, who died in 2002. She also dated Bobby D’Apice, who later made headlines as the Crazy Horse Too shift manager in Las Vegas that was sentenced to prison for breaking the neck of a customer.
In an online chat with AdultDVDtalk.com in 2000, Chambers attempted to explain what caused her to take such a radically different career path after “The Owl and the Pussycat” and her modeling work.
“Back then in my naive brain I was thinking that something like ‘Behind the Green Door’ had never been done before and the way our sexual revolution was traveling I really thought it was going to be a stepping stone which would further my acting career,” she said.
She learned afterward, she said, that wasn’t the case. “There will always be a stigma on people who do adult films,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that that’s the way society has made it.”
She returned to adult films in 1980 in “Insatiable” and through the rest of her career went back and forth between explicit movies and R-rated ones. Hirsch noted that one of the most striking things about Chambers’ career was its longevity in a business where stars quickly fade. She still has a photo gallery on the Web site Adult Video News and the Internet Movie Database credits her as recently completing a film called, “Porndogs: The Adventures of Sadie” with Ron Jeremy.
Although Chambers was quick to point out in 2000 that she had done more R-rated films that X-rated ones, she made no apologies for the latter: “I have to say that the adult films have been a total pleasure,” she said. “They were like getting paid to live out my greatest fantasies. The rest of the stuff … sometimes got to be a real grind.”
Marilyn Chambers was ranked by Playboy magazine as one of the top 100 sex stars of the 20th century and was named among the top 10 adult film stars of all time.
Her Southern California death currently remains under investigation.