LOS ANGELES—The adult industry will mourn the death of Sledge Hammer, who passed away last night after being removed from a respirator following an incident last Sunday when he was reportedly Tasered by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department.
The 39-year-old had been a performer in nearly 800 hardcore videos stretching back to 1995, when he did his first two movies for Stoney Curtis' Celestial Productions before disappearing from the porn scene for almost two years.
"He's a giant teddy bear; real nice guy," said director Bobby Manila, who worked with Hammer last year in Mom's Cuckold 6 and 7. "He was a real great guy to work with. Unfortunately, the business, as far as black male talent, has dropped off considerably, and as far as movies go, I would say the last two years had been hard on him as far as getting work."
"I was often on the box shoots with him, and we used him on several, and I often interacted with him when he would accompany Katja Kassin, who was his live-in girlfriend and later his wife, and she shot for us a lot at that time," recalled Christian Mann, former owner of Video Team, for whom Hammer did 26 movies. "I remember him as being a gentle giant. He was a very muscular bodybuilder kind of a guy. He was an absolutely reliable performer at a time when there were only a handful of go-to black male performers. He was always really gentle and he almost had a European sensibility about him, possibly as a result of his time with Katja Kassin, who was his live-in girlfriend. He didn't seem to have some of the swagger bravado that a lot of the male performers at the time had.
"He was funny; he was somewhat soft-spoken, and he was an absolute delight," Mann continued. "I don't recall him being flakey, being difficult, any of that. The guy showed up, he did the work he was asked to do. He was remarkably patient with me and David Aaron Clark when we did the box shoot of Asian Noir 4, where he had to wear this gas mask and pose with these girls at this box shoot under hot lights, holding the same pose for long periods of time, and there was not a single complaint. All I can tell you is, he was punctual, he was serious, he was a good, solid worker, mature, easy-going. ... The thing I used to say to myself was, as nice as he seems to be, that must be the real deal, because Katja, who I respect a lot, has been with this guy for a while. He just seems to be a nice guy."
It's those kinds of reactions which make it all the more difficult to understand the reports of how Hammer died. According to Curtis, who is acknowledged by several as Hammer's best friend in the industry, the beefy actor was suffering from depression and paranoia due to a combination of genetics and frequent marijuana use. This reportedly led to a severe anxiety attack last Sunday night, which prompted his girlfriend to call for an ambulance to take him to a hospital for treatment.
Curtis said that the ambulance arrived, and so did members of the Los Angeles Police Department, who helped him from his house to the ambulance. When Hammer balked at remaining in the cramped rear section of the vehicle, the emergency medical technicians allowed him to exit—but apparently because of Hammer's continued anxiety, called the police back to the scene.
What happened next is unclear, but Curtis believes that when the cops arrived, Hammer's height (6-foot-4) and bulk intimidated them, and rather than try to subdue him with the manpower available, they began shooting him with their Tasers—"excessively," according to Curtis—to the point where he suffered a heart attack and for all intents and purposes died for 10 minutes until the EMTs were able to restart his heart.
The lack of oxygen for that period of time caused his brain to swell and put him in a coma, and after doctors told his mother, with whom he was very close, that it was unlikely that her son would ever regain consciousness, and if he did, it was even more unlikely that he would be able to resume anything like a normal life, she made the decision to take him off the respirator on Thursday evening.
When contacted by AVN, a representative from the LAPD's Media Relations Section confirmed that the Force Investigation Division was looking into the incident, but that because it was an ongoing investigation, the department would not issue any comment at present.
However, it seems unlikely that the man who's been consistently described as "gentle," a "sweetheart," a "teddy bear" and several similar terms, even in a state of anxiety, would have posed any real danger to the police, so an internal investigation certainly seems in order.
"Yes," Curtis said in response to a question from AVN, "the family thinks it was an excessive use of force by LAPD, and they are looking into getting a top lawyer who handles wrongful death cases involving excessive Taser use."
Agent Kevin O'Neal of Type 9 Models also commented about his former client's gentle disposition. "The person that he was, I never knew him to have a violent bone in his body," O'Neal said. "He was always excessively respectful towards the girls, right up to the last shoot I ever put him on. He had backed off performing quite a bit because of his depression, because he'd say it just felt like the drugs they were giving him—he didn't specifically say, but I was under the assumption that he was taking some antidepressants—were making it hard for him to keep wood all the time and stuff, so he said he was just going to take a break from performing, and focus a little more on stuff with his girlfriend."
Several adult industry members who had been close to Hammer at one time or another remembered him well.
"I lived with him for about six months or so a couple of years ago," said adult personality Tony Batman. "When I first walked into the house, it was decorated with comic books and superheroes everywhere. The whole living room, the bathrooms, the kitchen, every piece of wall. He had a replica of the Thor hammer in the living room on the coffee table. That was his prized piece—must have cost him a bundle—but he liked all of them, though."
From what he knows of Hammer, Batman also found the events of Sunday night inexplicable.
"He wasn't aggressive," Batman insisted. "He was always just a big smile-y kind of guy. He was real quiet, and spent a lot of time alone when I was there. There would be two, three days in a row that we didn't talk, even in the same house."
Batman also takes issue with the idea that lack of performing work—Hammer had only done about 40 movies over the past two years—might have changed the performer's basic good nature.
"He always kept a part-time job," Batman said. "He always made ends meet somehow. He did security at a couple of nightclubs down in Hollywood. He was gigantic. One of the rooms in the house was converted into a gym. We had like a three-bedroom apartment. I had a room, he had a room, and the other room was a gym, which he had thousands of dollars worth of stuff, gym equipment, in there."
According to Curtis, however, Hammer had left his security job, though he apparently made up for it by performing with his girlfriend in webcam shows.
"He's a sweetheart," Manila agreed. "He looked big and mean but he was a teddy bear. He's built like a linebacker, a big guy all the way around, and some girls were afraid to work with him when they saw him, but once they met him, they realized he's just a big teddy bear."
Joey Silvera, who worked with Hammer on four volumes of his Service Animals series, had a similar view.
"Oh, man, he was 100 percent a go-to guy, even in the most difficult situations," Silvera recalled. "Whatever the situation was that I put him in, he would make a great scene out of it, no matter what was going on around him, so he was a go-to guy. That's important. It's important to be a go-to guy. There's not a lot of them, you know. Everybody he worked with liked him; all the girls, everybody. I felt completely safe with him around. He was a great performer. The girls always genuinely liked him, which was a huge advantage to me."
"I'm terribly saddened to hear about this," Mann stated. "I haven't spoken to him in like four or five years. Nonetheless, what a sad loss, not just to the business, but this was a young man, gone way too soon, I don't know any of the circumstance of what happened so I can't comment; I don't know what he's been doing for the last batch of years, but my memory of him is that he was nice, easy-going, reliable as both a performer and a professional in the industry: On time, no business hassles, and truthfully, the more soft-spoken of the two in my dealings with him and Katja together."
"We enjoyed many concerts together," Curtis reflected. "We both shared a love for heavy metal music, I will miss him. Since news of one of best friend's untimely and unnecessary death, there has been an outcry of love and respect for him. It's too bad he didn't realize how many people actually loved the guy and found him to be a kind soul. Sometimes people are so sensitive that they just don't handle the cold real world so well. Thus the reason he dove into comic books, etc."
The entire adult industry will await the results of the police investigation; when it is completed, look for analysis on AVN.com.