Former porn star Jonathan Agassi: I’d be dead if they hadn’t made a documentary about me

An unnerving and acclaimed new film about an Israeli actors meteoric career in adult movies and horrifying descent into drug addiction saved his life, he says

The documentary Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life begins with the fresh-faced gay Israeli porn star winning a top industry award in Berlin, and ends with him high on drugs, writhing around on the floor, his life in tatters. Playing out like a bleak Boogie Nights, the film, shot by Israels Tomer Heymann over eight years, catches Agassis swift climb to the top then sticks with him through a slow, ugly decline. Sex and drugs abound, with unnervingly intimate footage, but it is sensitive and compassionate.

Agassi, now 35, doesnt work in porn any more. I work in a 24/7 kind of shop, he says down the line from Tel Aviv. A kiosk. Very different. But its great. I have no complaints. He met Heymann soon after hed made it big; the director was bowled over by Agassis charisma and proposed a documentary. I wanted a very happy film about a man who left Israel and became a huge porn star all over the world, says Agassi. But life came along, and things happened. Everything changed very fast.

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The documentary, he thought, could celebrate his victories. He was bullied and beaten up at school for being feminine. I was a problematic child. On a scale from one to 10, my life was about three. So when I became this porn star suddenly, a very successful one, everything went so good. Theres a lot of love in the film, particularly concerning his relationship with his sweetly besotted mother, even when her son strides into the living room in a gimp mask and suspenders. His father was less supportive.

The young Agassi was addicted to hard drugs for five years. We watch as he constantly smokes crystal meth, once as he dials his mum on Skype, pivoting the laptop away as she answers so he can take a drag. The final scenes, in which he has singularly failed to kick the habit, are very upsetting.

It wasnt until Agassi watched footage in the editing suite that the impact of his habits including collapsing most days started to sink in. It was terrible to see it. I started crying. But I think its important. We have lots of scenes where Im so sexy on drugs. Im very high but I still look hot and I have my hard-on and Im looking great. Im going to a party and Im happy. But the truth is, I mostly looked like I did when I was collapsing. I overdosed so many times in my life, I cannot believe that Im still alive.

This film definitely saved me, he continues. When I saw it for the first time, I said, I will never go back to this state of mind again. Hes now a regular along with his mother at rehabilitation support groups.

Heymann continued to film Agassi for a couple of years as he cleaned up, but decided not to use the footage, ending with the drug-addicted Agassi at his lowest point, sleep deprived and near suicidal. Years after his excitement at the prospect of having a triumphant documentary made about his life, Agassi then wanted to be honest about everything that had happened since. To make it happy at the end, to show that now everything is great? Its not really like that. The difficult times that I had were stronger than the happy times.

The films candour has served both star and director well. It has won awards at international film festivals, and a few weeks ago picked up best documentary at the Ophirs, Israels Oscars. Agassi says cineaste celebration is different from that of the adult film industry. I always used to say, Yes, I am the best. Now he shares credit. The director is amazing. He gave everything to this film. I definitely gave everything to this film. There are so many aspects to it. Its not just because I have a big dick and I know how to have sex.

He says his goodbyes and returns to work in the supermarket kiosk before heading back to the home he shares with his beloved mother.

Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life is available on DVD and on demand on 18 November with Q&A screenings in London on 4 and 5 December.

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