This article originally ran in the December 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.
When he first arrived on the scene in 1998, Dean Phoenix was an instant fan favorite—a dynamic performer with a personality to match, his presence ignited the screen. He worked with the likes of All Worlds, Falcon and Channel 1—and alongside top-dog directors like Chi Chi LaRue, Dirk Yates and Doug Jeffries. When he retired in late 2000, fans were heartbroken.
Fast forward to 2004, when he returned with a bang: His performance in the two-part blockbuster BuckleRoos netted him GAYVN awards for Best Actor and Best Sex Scene, and a place in one of the industry’s biggest hits of all time (Colt’s Buckshot title racked up 11 awards in 2005). Phoenix pressed the pause button again before returning in 2007, appearing in more Buckshot hits—notably legendary director Jerry Douglas’s Brotherhood—and some work for Jet Set, including one of the studio’s biggest hits, On Fire!
But he was gone again, returning briefly in 2010 for Cocksure Men before quickly disappearing—his six-year industry absence leaving fans to believe that this time, it was for good. That all changed in October.
“I started thinking more about coming out of retirement just this year, and because of different reasons. I did a few movies in my first couple years of sobriety and decided that I was still trying to figure out who I was. When you get sober, it allows you to peel away at the onion and douse your character defects and work on your attributes,” says Phoenix.
“At that time, I didn’t feel like I had a healthy ego. So I needed to work on developing a foundation of who I really was and what I wanted to be. After working on myself another six years or so, I find myself in a different mindset. I guess you can say a Phoenix rising from the ashes, however cliché that might sound. I also missed working in the industry, the friends and family I had made. And having the opportunity to work with my friends again like Tucker Scott at Next Door Studios could not be a better home for me to return to.”
For Scott, director and vice president of production at Next Door Studios, it was a request he jumped at.
“Interestingly enough, Dean is the reason that I got into this business. I knew him when I moved to L.A. about nine years ago, and he was one of the first people I met. We had a few dates…and then we just kind of went our other ways,” he says, adding that it was the Next Door makeup artist who brought Phoenix’s interest to his attention. “It was his time and he was interested, and he had known me and Michael—who has been with the company for a while—and just felt comfort. He likes our stuff and he wanted to come to Next Door, and I rushed at that opportunity.”
Next Door has Phoenix signed to a two-year exclusive deal, and has him scheduled to film on a regular rotating schedule—with a few upcoming features to release in 2017. Phoenix notes the studio has also announced its plans to reinstate their promotions and events department (which Scott led before becoming VP of production), so he will be making appearances at sponsored events, festivals and clubs, as well as award shows.
“I heard nothing but great things about Next Door from a very good friend of mine that still works in the business, and I trust him. Their content is great and they go out of their way to make us comfortable and to feel respected,” Phoenix says. “Also, knowing Tucker, having an admiration for him and his intense hard work, working with him prior and knowing him before he got into the industry, it only seemed like common sense.”
It’s also fitting, as this isn’t Scott’s first foray into bringing Phoenix back.
“In 2010, he came out of retirement for just a couple scenes with Cocksure Men, and oddly, one of those scenes was with me,” laughs Scott. “And that was kind of me pulling him out at that point. He was really kind of rushed back in, and wasn’t sure that he wanted to do it again. Because I knew him then and I worked with him on that particular one in 2010, I can tell you that what I’m seeing behind the camera this time—and just working with him on set—it’s a real comeback, whereas I felt like those were just kind of little splashes. This time he’s dedicated, he’s referring to himself as Dean again. It’s a whole other world for him, so I’m excited about that because of how serious he’s taking it.”
The Long Road Back
For Phoenix, this return has been a long time coming—but it hasn’t been easy.
“So much has transpired since I left the industry, and it’s been a roller coaster of good and bad. I’ve lost some good friends to drugs and alcohol, and it’s painful to see. Hits close to home when you have them on your higher tier of friendship,” shares Phoenix, who has dedicated much of his adult life to the recovery world, working for numerous drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers and managing a transitional sober living home as well. “I decided that I wanted to stay in the nurturing field, so I went and got my nursing license to start doing home health.”
Alongside that, he started working for a general practice/internal medicine office as a patient care coordinator, working with six specialty doctors—specialists in gastrointestinal, infectious disease, family practice, integrative health of Eastern/Western medicine and HIV. He was with them for three years, until he felt it was time to move on. Phoenix worked as an independent contractor with Uber and Lyft for about a year—until he realized that he wanted to get back into the workforce (“Driving for eight to 12 hours a day, seven days a week was getting to be a bit much”). He is also considering going back to school for his RN degree.
“Being sober now almost nine years has been challenging at times, but it’s definitely one thing I truly hold dear. I’ve invested so much into my life and am a better man because of it,” he says. “Ironically enough, after being a bartender for 20 years, I find myself in full circle, as I now work as a sommelier. Not what I want to do, but the opportunity was presented and I’m finding myself learning more about wine. Funny, when I was out there partying, wine was never my thing…but I had learned about wine when I was a waiter back in my 20s at a French cuisine restaurant called El Bizcocho at Rancho Bernardo Inn.”
Home for Phoenix has always been Los Angeles, and he has found comfort focusing on his friends more than anything. He continues to keep busy at the gym, going to movies with friends (“usually scary movies”), beach outings, “gayme” nights and “finding new cupcake shops.”
“I seem to concentrate more on my friends more than anything. They’ve always stuck by me and believed in me, while others judged me and said awful things. I’m really a nice and down-to-earth guy. I just want to thank my fans and friends for always sticking by me and being polite and treating me like a human being all these years. That I’m not just a piece of meat, but someone with a good heart and soul,” says Phoenix.
“I still haven’t found Mr. Right. Kind of given up on that,” he laughs. “I have a different mindset today. I’m older, so I really take this more professionally then when I was in my 20s. I feel I joined the tribe to be a part of. It intrigued me. It’s like a different world. I left a couple times because I thought I met my soul mates…turned out there wasn’t much soul there.”
Scott notices his friend’s newfound focus and dedication.
“In the time that I’ve known him, he’s grown quite a bit. His body is looking fantastic physically, but just the mental side of it and the personality that I’m getting from him is one that is very put together, masculine…I would like to say fatherly, but I know he wouldn’t necessarily like to hear me say that right now,” he says with a laugh.
“As far as his personality, people who are intuitive to watching people’s body language and whatnot would probably gather that he is kind of more of a quiet, sensitive kind of guy, and that’s what you really get with Dean—just a very genuine individual. He listens to people and cares about people, and you don’t necessarily see that a whole lot. Everybody’s in and out of people’s lives in this business, but with Dean, when he was here the last time, I noticed how he interacted with his scene partner. Just listening to his interaction with him, and seeing how they connected and knowing that they were going to continue to be friends, it says a lot about his personality and his character. That’s a strong thing about him personally, and shows just how wonderful of an individual he is.”
That reputation extends to affiliates, bloggers and review sites, individuals who have followed and supported the industry for years—and who are very familiar with Phoenix
“Dean is definitely a legend in this business, and not too many can say they have that status. So his return is a substantial thing,” says Scott, who notes the buzz and excitement on social media has already started spreading. “The ones that do know who Dean is have been going nuts. We’ve had some top blogs just pounding down the doors of our Buddy Profits office asking for any kind of behind-the-scenes stuff, any kind of special images, they’re wanting to do features on him, so we’ve definitely received an enormous amount of response.”
Back in the Saddle
Like the star system from the Golden Age of Hollywood, the “gay porn star” seems to be the signature of a bygone era. The proliferation of small studios, amateur content, technology and social media has ushered in a new world where anyone and everyone can claim some fame, making those iconic men ever harder to come by. Thankfully for the fans, they still exist—and Phoenix is proof.
“I always wonder, is the day of the porn star over? And I don’t necessarily believe that,” says Scott. “I think that it’s more so whether the person possesses that quality or not; it’s not necessarily the level of views that comes with their scenes. So for me, when I look at him, I see that performer kick in and a chemistry that is dynamic. It jumps off the screen, and hopefully that’s how our members are going to feel as well.”
As of early November, Phoenix had filmed three scenes, including one with Gabriel Cross. His first scene (with Johnny Riley) goes live November 30 on NextDoorRaw.com. Scott notes they are also planning to film the studio’s biggest production in three years in December—a five-part series that’s “super cinematic with a heavy storyline.” That will serve as Phoenix’s first full feature, planned for an early January release and showcasing him as a main character.
“He’s fantastic on set to work with; his performances are authentic,” says Scott. “That’s what is always nice. I’ve known him well enough to know the types of guys and things that he’s interested in, so the casting comes together nicely for him as well as the characters. But the biggest thing about Dean is that this isn’t necessarily a job—it’s not about the paycheck, and you can see that in his performances. He knows how to perform, he makes his partners comfortable, and when I call ‘Action!’ you see a porn star, which is something that we don’t see very often anymore.”
Phoenix says his first time back in front of the camera was a smooth experience.
“It went great! It was just like riding a bike: Once you learn, you don’t forget,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve learned things sometimes do not go as planned time wise with scenes, and you improvise or switch things around to better fit a time constraint. I was also thinking about how hot my co-star was, and that always makes things so much smoother when there might be a bump in the road. Tucker is a fantastic director, and due to my personal schedule conflicts, they worked with me to make it happen as soon as we could—even though we had to do the scene in the night hours, which my director was not too happy about…I’ve been out of it for a while. So far, Next Door has given me some super sexy studs that I’m very pleased with.”
As far as fantasies Phoenix might want to explore, he lists a basketball/wrestling coach and a bartender on a beach at a gay resort as a few options. As for bottoming? “It’s possible I could bottom again,” he laughs. “Maybe.”
Adds Scott: “Right now, we have not done any bottoming scenes. That’s often something that’s very, very personal and private to Dean, both as a performer and linking into who he is as a person. When he did his first—and I think one of only two ever—bottoming scene, it was with BuckleRoos at the end, and that was a huge deal—a massive one. Michael, our makeup artist here who also works with me as a PA, was there—he was the PA and makeup artist on the BuckleRoos set when that happened. He told me what an experience it was…it just had to be the right timing and the right scene partner for it to happen, and even then it was somewhat of a challenge for Dean. It’s a personal thing for him, and not every performer feels comfortable—especially a gay performer that sees it as maybe a more intimate thing.”
In the meantime, Phoenix will add to his memories and work on his goals—which this time aren’t fully focused on the physical. Over the years, he notes that fans have congratulated him on his work, and some have shared they he helped them with coming out or accepting who they were as gay men.
“So many sweet memories. Every movie I’ve done was nothing short of an awesome experience. It’s the crew and cast that make it so. Also, the roles I’ve played and the places and events I’ve gone to, traveling to Greece, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii,” he says.
“I feel that I never really concentrated on getting ripped, but just do the bare minimum. This return allows me to work on preparedness. Getting older, it seems that I really count calories and keep track of my workouts and what I need to do to stay on track to get where I want to be—not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Knowing I have scenes to do, it prepares me. Also, I can’t wait to make new friends and have a new addition of ‘family.’”