Don’t Blame It on Rio

She took a hiatus from porn in the 80’s and focused on stripping. In 1983 she was arrested for indecent exposure in Kentucky. The charges were dropped, but she had to serve 35 days in jail for possession of cocaine. After she was released, she made a bodybuilding video.

She returned to porn to make four more films. She was taking steroids, which acted as an aphrodisiac—in The Devil in Miss Jones 3 she has sex with eight guys wearing pig masks. Still reeling after her plane landed in New York, she persuaded the cab driver to have sex with her for double the fare.

In the late 80’s she went into therapy and tried to disassociate herself from the business—“I did not want to be Vanessa Del Rio anymore.” However, she continued to pose in men’s magazines, and run her fan club and Web site.

Then the Taschen publishing house called. “She was a juvenile icon for me, you know?” Benedikt Taschen told me. “She inspired me for many nights.”

The book’s text was written by Dian Hanson, editor of Leg Show magazine. “If you think what makes art art, it’s that you’re doing it for something beyond monetary gain,” said Ms. Hanson. “Vanessa was just about the only one doing that in porn, the only woman doing that. There are always men willing to get up there and have sex for free—though they sure wish someone would pay them—but with Vanessa, it was clear that she was something apart. She was not given the starring roles, because of her ethnicity, a
nd yet she would walk into a premiere and they would just mob her. She was the fan favorite because she was legitimately there for the sex, and that is the ultimate male fantasy, that women will be doing porn for the sex.

“And there’s never been a break in this,” Ms. Hanson continued. “Even today, she’s there amusing herself by looking at naked men on the Internet…She is truly what men fantasize about. Though she’s kind of scary in reality for most men, and they don’t imagine they can meet her demands. But her demands aren’t big!”

On a Saturday afternoon, I visited Ms. Del Rio at the little house in Staten Island that porn bought her. From the new book, I already knew she drives a Jeep, watches CSI, that her favorite actors include Clive Owen and Leonardo DiCaprio (“he’s turning into a fine actor”), and that she wants Rosario Dawson to play her in a biopic.

She listens to alternative jazz, likes vodka and rare steak, peanut butter on anything, and she gets off watching men masturbate via Web cam on Yahoo chat.

She has two cats, Lola and Tarzan, and there’s a scar on her ass from sitting on a curling iron. She’s always been faithful in relationships and thinks of herself as “the biggest friggin’ feminist there is.”

Wearing jeans and a T-shirt that read Forbidden Fruit, she welcomed me inside. There were leopard rugs, leopard foot stools, pink flamingoes, mermaids, mini palm trees. We sat next to each other on a couch in the living room. Her bulldog was all over me.

“Down! Stay!” Ms. Del Rio said.

I told her that the night before, I’d watched her DVD with my girlfriend, who excused herself during a cucumber scene. Ms. Del Rio laughed and added she was pressed for time, because she had to go to the Bronx to visit her mother, who is sick with pancreatic cancer.

How did she feel about the book?

“I am completely flattered, honored and just flabbergasted that Mr. Taschen wanted to do this book on my life and, well, that the porn part is art,” she said. “It’s almost like I don’t know what to think other than like, Wow.”

Why is not bad for a woman to be a slut?

“Well, it’s an archetype of woman,” she said. “There’s our horny side, and there’s our more nurturing side, and rather than use the word ‘slut’ in a derogatory way, I embrace it. Yes, I enjoy my sexuality, and throughout history women have been held down from enjoying their sexuality, because it’s a very powerful thing. The clitoris is the only organ whose sole purpose is pleasure. Even a man’s penis has a purpose—it shoots sperm so people can conceive—yes, there’s pleasure, but there’s also a purpose.”

How much sex has she had in 2007?

“That’s personal.”

Does she feel proud of having given so many people so many orgasms?

“It’s not something you think of,” she said. “At the moment that you’re doing it, you don’t sit there and think, Jeez, I’m so proud of how many guys are going to spill their seed over me. A lot of people have actually communicated with me, either by mail or e-mail, that I have made their sex life better. A lot of women have said that by watching my films, they’ve learned how to please their husbands and they’re thanking me.