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The Rise and Fall of the Monster 

Gay porn star Michael Brandon goes from meth addict to antidrug poster boy and, tragically, back to meth addict.

Wednesday, Oct 1 2008
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When the careworn, emaciated man in the powder-blue long-sleeved button-down shirt drifted in through the courtroom doors, not many took note. For all anyone knew, he was just another junkie who had stolen or trespassed or sold drugs or gotten ratted out by some other junkie.

Aside from a reporter, nobody seemed to suspect this man might be a beloved San Franciscan gay porn icon with a 10-inch cock nicknamed Monster and a line of dildos created in its likeness. This guy now looked like a withered character in a Tim Burton film, nothing like the wiry blond stud who twice took home the highest honor in gay porn, the GAYVN Performer of the Year. It was conceivable that this wasn't the man at all.

He settled in the second-to-last row of the courtroom, took a long, slow breath, and gazed at the floor.

The reporter approached. "Are you Michael Brandon?"

The man's distressed blue eyes flicked up and he nodded.

"Do you mind if I sit?"

He didn't.

In fact, at that very moment, Michael Brandon was very much in need of someone to sit with. In June, a confidential police informant had reported that Brandon was selling crystal meth while motel surfing, or moving from place to place under aliases to avoid attention. The police found him and arrested him soon after; he was charged with three felonies for selling meth, speed, and Ecstasy.

It was like a remake of a bad movie. Though Brandon had been on top of his game for the past eight years, he had spent most of the '90s in Orange County, addicted to crystal meth. From those days, he had two felony convictions from two separate arrests. He had spent more than three years in state prison, and had no interest in going back.

"I'm scared," he whispered. He was shaking.

Brandon admitted he had also been trembling earlier that morning when he tried to inject meth into his arm. Now he was afraid somebody would recognize how messed up he was, and that police would take him into custody. That would mean no more meth for a really long time. It would also mean that his boyfriend, Marcos Monzon — who was on his way to the courthouse — would see him in cuffs. Their four-year anniversary, which they hadn't yet celebrated, was the day before.

Brandon clasped his hands in his lap, revealing a fingernail on his left hand hanging from the nail bed by a thin fiber. Apparently he smashed it in a motel door — not surprising, considering his current lifestyle.

For most of the past year, Brandon said he had spent much of his time in motels and on the streets, injecting himself with meth and getting involved in drug deals. When this hearing was over, he expected to go directly to a motel to shoot up. It's not something he's proud of, but he can't manage to stop yet. He seemed to be in disbelief that it had come to this.

In the '90s club scene, particularly the gay club scene, crystal meth was considered glamorous, and its dangers were somewhat unknown. For many, it held the promise of hot, long-lasting, intimate sex; plenty in the gay porn industry partook of the drug in their off time. Early this decade, it finally became clear that meth was highly addictive and could suck away years of people's lives, devastating minds and bodies. Enchantment with the drug was replaced with revulsion, and the state of California and San Francisco's Department of Health began funding public awareness campaigns such as "Hot Sex Without Crystal? Hell Yes!"

Michael Brandon knows that ad campaign well — he was its spokesman. After his initial recovery, he became a powerful and prominent example of how meth could be beaten, and he spoke often about his desire to save others from the despair and darkness he had known. But even with eight years in recovery, a luminous career in porn, and the adoration of those who knew him, Michael Brandon couldn't save himself.

After Superior Court Judge Gail Dekreon calls his name, Brandon's demeanor and movements change. His self-pity and fear disappear behind a quick and confident step, perhaps meant to suggest that he's doing just fine. His lawyer, Stephen Rosen, barely makes eye contact with him, then turns to the judge and requests a continuance. Brandon shifts his weight back and forth, unsuccessfully tries to smooth the wrinkles in his shirt, and clasps his hands behind his back, as if they're already in cuffs.

He seems to be holding his breath, and finally Judge Dekreon nods. The next court date will be Friday, September 26, at 2:30 p.m. "You can sleep in," she tells Brandon with a smile.

In the back of the courtroom, the recently arrived Monzon smiles, too.

As they exit the courthouse into the warming August morning, Brandon and Monzon are walking hand in hand. They decide to grab some food at the McDonald's next door, and invite the reporter along.

By the time Brandon has ordered Southern-style chicken biscuits and chosen a rickety, isolated table at the back of the restaurant, his relief at retaining his freedom seems to have given way to self-criticism. He stares at the wobbling table, then says with a smirk, "I can relate." He picks uninterestedly at his food, mulling over whether he wants to be part of a newspaper story that would reveal the uncomfortable details of his relapse, but which could also help others more fully understand the dangers of meth.

All the while, one of Brandon's cellphones — he has two, apparently — is buzzing with text messages. If this disturbs Monzon, it doesn't show on his boyishly handsome, lightly freckled face. Speaking in a lightning-fast Hispanic accent about his partner's weeks-at-a-time disappearances, be betrays no emotion. After a few months, he says, he simply got used to it. "I'm standing by him," he says softly.

At the end of the meal, Brandon gazes at the floor, and rocks his upper body back and forth. His brow is pinched in a way that suggests he is thinking hard. Suddenly his posture goes rigid and his expression turns stoic. "I'll do it," he says. "I'll do the story."

It's agreed that the reporter will telephone Brandon in a couple of days to start the interviews. If he doesn't answer, just keep calling, he says. Sometimes he gets paranoid. Sometimes he just needs a few days. Sometimes he just disappears.

In the meantime, the reporter needs to learn more about Brandon's shadowy past. In the late '80s and early '90s, Brandon worked at a bar in Orange County called the Frat House, and it turns out his first boyfriend, David Leony, still works there. Through conversations with Leony and a study of Brandon's interviews with the media, a basic picture of his history comes into view.

Back then, his name was Michael Phillips. He grew up with three brothers and a sister in Santa Maria, a city in Santa Barbara County known for wine and barbecue. After graduating high school, he worked as a regional manager for Taco Bell and married his high school sweetheart. They divorced after Brandon decided he preferred the company of men.

In the four years he and Leony spent together, they liked to go out dancing at clubs, and often traveled to Hawaii and Tijuana. In 1988, Brandon quit his fast-food job and became a bartender at the Frat House. Then he started hanging out with a fast crowd of meth-using gay men.

Brandon was very private about his drug use, Leony said. He would disappear for days at a time, and eventually stopped bartending. Then things started to go missing, like Leony's leather jacket. One time, while on drugs, Brandon fell off a roof and broke an arm and both legs. Every cop in town knew who he was, Leony recalls. Eventually, meth tore the couple apart. "He's the only boyfriend I ever cried about when we broke up," Leony said. "I just couldn't do a damn thing about it."

Though he didn't tell Leony back then, Brandon entered the world of pornography in 1989 after answering an ad in Frontiers magazine and interviewing with Los Angeles agent Johnny Johnson. Brandon's Dirk Diggler–esque 10-inch cock and bright blue eyes made him a shoo-in; he quickly wound up starring in two films, Ranger Nick and Air Male.

But then the drug took over. Orange County court records reveal that Brandon was convicted in 1990 of possession of controlled substances, and again in 1997 of possession with intent to sell and served those three years in state prison.

Upon his release in 1999, Brandon found rehab, kicked the habit, and got back in touch with Johnson. He began working for a variety of porn studios, including Raging Stallion in San Francisco. At the time, one of its owners, Chris Ward, had been pondering something new and different — a more "gonzo" style of man-on-man sex. Brandon reminisces on his Web site that Ward wanted it to be "aggressive to the point of brutality," and for that, he needed dominating tops with big dicks. "I found my top in you," Ward told him.

The legend of Michael Brandon was born.

To understand Brandon's appeal, you need only consult his fans on the Internet. A quick search of various Web sites discussing Brandon, Monster, and his work revealed the following comments:

"If I could spend an hour alone with just one porn star, there's no doubt it would be Michael Brandon," one wrote. "Michael Brandon almost drips confidence. He knows his way around a cock, and he knows exactly how to talk to a man who is sucking on Monster ... He's warm, caring, kind, considerate, really down to earth guy. Plus, the sex we had will be engraved in my mind for life!"

Those fans saw a new, totally sober Brandon. The guy they knew was a career-driven rising star, but also a sweetheart who had time to answer every piece of fan e-mail. He had a fan-focused Web site,, where he posted free photos and videos, and a journal seemingly written by Monster. The site received the Cybersocket Web Award for Best Porn Site in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Between 1999 and 2006, Brandon starred in more than 150 films, including Pokin' in the Boys Room, LumberJacked, and Ass Pounding Hunks II. In 2002, he became a partial owner of Raging Stallion and began producing films, and in 2003 he made his directing debut — all rare and difficult transitions for most porn stars.

Brandon's onscreen work gained recognition in 2002, when he won Performer of the Year at the GAYVN Awards (essentially the Oscars of gay porn). The next year, he tied with Colton Ford for the title, making history as the only guy to win twice in a row. In the 2002 Adult Erotic Video Awards (aka the Grabbys), he was named best performer, and the next year he made the Grabby Wall of Fame. In 2005, he received a Grabby for Hottest Cock. Finally, in 2006, he was inducted into the GAYVN Hall of Fame.

A skilled self-promoter, Brandon was also able to turn his penis into a celebrity. Monster — so named by an admirer — has its own e-mail address and video subdivision at Raging Stallion, Monster Bang, which has put out Trouser Trout, Tailpipes, and Ass Quest I and II, among others. In 2004, Brandon created the Monster dildo, which comes in four variations — fleshtone or ice-colored, and vibrating or not. On one Web site, customers have posted ecstatic reviews, complaining only that the dildo is so big that "there isn't enough alcohol in the world to loosen me up that much." Brandon has admitted in several interviews that he owns one, and is fond of saying, "I now know what it is like to get fucked by me."

Fellow porn stars loved and feared Monster. Ford remembers a scene in a movie he did with Brandon several years ago in which Ford played a restaurant chef. Apparently the food he served was so delicious that all the male diners — including Brandon — decided to get it on. Ford remembers prominent porn director Chi Chi LaRue telling him she wanted to see Brandon pounding his butt, but he politely declined. "My sphincter is lovely," Ford says. "I wanted to keep it intact."

Many in the industry say the diversification Brandon has achieved makes him comparable to a straight porn star like Jenna Jameson. It also allowed him to do the near impossible and make a living in gay porn. Most stars create names for themselves in porn, then charge exorbitant prices for escort work. Though Brandon did that for a while, everything changed when Monzon came into the picture.

Their meet-cute happened in 2004 at a Los Angeles street fair where Brandon was signing autographs. Monzon's sister, a lesbian who sometimes watched Brandon's movies with her girlfriend, asked her brother to photograph them together. Monzon had never heard of the porn actor, but the two men hit it off and soon became an item. Brandon told an Internet magazine that he gave up escort work for Monzon, and that during the cum shots in his movies, "I picture his big green eyes and I shoot a big load thinking of him."

Brandon was also an active discoverer of new talent, traveling to cities around the country for contests. He also hosted parties and community events, so it's not surprising that when the San Francisco Department of Health's Stonewall Project launched the "Hot Sex Without Crystal? Hell Yes!" program, Brandon was at the top of its spokesman list. "Porn stars hold a much more revered spot in the gay male community than they do in the straight population," Stonewall founder Michael Siever says. "They're looked up to and admired." Brandon, he says, was the kind of guy who would use his influence to help other people.

On his blog, Brandon detailed his own reasons for getting involved in the campaign. On meth, he wrote, he had crossed every "never line" he had drawn for himself. He'd missed work for drugs, failed to pay bills, used a needle, become homeless, gone to jail, sold drugs on corners, spent hours trying to get an erection, gone crazy with paranoia, and even resorted to violence. "I'm walking, living proof that there is life after crystal meth," he wrote. "Folks don't need to lose their mind, end up in jails, hospitals, on the streets, or turned away by family members. ... I've already been there for you."

The porn industry and gay community respected Brandon for his honesty about his past, and anointed him a do-gooder and a hero. When Brandon was asked by an interviewer from what his treasured possession was, the answer was obvious: "My recovery," he said. "Without it, I wouldn't have any of the rest."

Crystal meth was not just a gay man's drug, as some of the anti-meth ad campaigns in San Francisco seem to suggest. But almost everyone agrees that, for gays, meth use became an epidemic approaching the level of AIDS. According to San Francisco therapist Michael Halyard, "What happened to gay men with crystal meth was the perfect storm."

By the late '90s, the Internet had become an easy way for gay men who felt alienated to connect and arrange to have sex on drugs. That's when the phrase PnP, for "Party and Play," came into common usage. More often than not, PnP means use of crystal meth. It was easy to get, inexpensive, and highly addictive. It also had a great appeal for insecure people with body image issues and cravings for intimacy. (In interviews, Brandon has said that he's afflicted by low self-esteem, and that although he works in porn, he prefers cuddling to sex.)

"Many gay men have had lots of rejection in their lives, and when you PnP, you suddenly feel accepted," Halyard says. Studies show that because shame and inhibitions are out the window, meth users are more likely to engage in unsafe sex. The drug also increases energy level and sexual appetite, a big selling point with guys who are depressed or HIV-positive. Though taking meth usually makes it difficult to get an erection, there's always Viagra.

Unsafe sex during PnP sessions is now the number one way HIV and other STDs are transmitted in gay men, Halyard says, and prolonged meth use can also cause permanent personality changes. "For some, their brain doesn't quite work the same ever again," he says. "They can't remember stuff as well or think clearly. Some even become permanently paranoid."

For gay men, treating the drug addiction alone is often not enough. It's actually a PnP addiction, Halyard says, because the crystal is inextricably linked to the sex. The therapist has had many men call for an appointment, then never show. Others come once or twice and then disappear. "PnP is a very tough addiction to beat, so my advice is don't start," he says.

Back in the '90s, that advice wasn't quite so prevalent. Meth was considered thrilling by those on the partying scene; it fueled inane conversations and harrowing adventures across social strata. People inhaled it, snorted it, and, in the worst cases, injected it. Some seemed to become addicted overnight, ultimately losing jobs, families, and anything else they might have cared about.

Others were able to better manage the drug. Sister Roma, an outspoken member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (an ostentatiously queer community outreach group), snorted meth for 15 of the 20 years she worked as a drag queen and in the porn industry as a director for Hot House. Her reasons were simple: "It was fun," she says. It seemed everyone around her was doing it back then, she says.

Sister Roma remembers tweakers showing up at the studio, ready to try their bodies at porn, and believes it was the meth that gave them the courage. It's not that the people in the industry ever encouraged it, she says. Sometimes, they just turned a blind eye.

Porn star Marcus Irons remembers a time about five years ago when he was forced to appear in a scene with a guy who was tweaking. It wasn't all that hot, he remembers. The guy had "meth mouth," or tooth loss and decay, and he was sweating profusely.

Though Sister Roma says she never lost her mind or her teeth, partying took a toll on her body. She remembers climbing the stairs to work one day two years ago and being short of breath, then collapsing. She was rushed to the hospital with a broken ankle, where her recovery began. She has no delusions about being cured of her addiction: "Our sobriety is very tentative," she says.

Around 2003, crystal meth had become a community bogeyman, Sister Roma remembers. Too many users had watched their friends and loved ones wind up unhealthy, imprisoned, and, in some cases, dead. After observing all the destruction, people began to view meth as the least glamorous drug around.

Several recent searches for "PnP" among the men-seeking-men ads on Craigslist reveal that most now request "No PnP." And according to a city-funded survey of 5,000 gay men between 2003 and 2006, meth use among HIV-negative men had decreased from 11.8 to 6.6 percent, while among HIV-positive men it had dropped from 24.8 to 19.9 percent. Supervisor Bevan Dufty told the Bay Area Reporter that since the city had recognized the meth problem, six agencies battling meth had grown to 34, and that funding for research, care, and counseling had increased from $400,000 to $1.8 million. Though community leaders acknowledged the improvement, they called for even more awareness. That's when the health department launched "Hot Sex Without Crystal!"

Perhaps the most prominent face in that anti-meth campaign was, of course, Michael Brandon. Then in October 2007, while moving a couch to retrieve a cat toy, Brandon says he pulled something in his back. He fought the pain with painkillers for a while, he says, but one morning he woke up, stared at the ceiling, and thought about something else that might help.

Tweakers all have something they like to do on drugs. Many want to have sex; others enjoy vacuuming the house, taking off all their clothes, or climbing buildings. For Brandon, the high often leads to entrepreneurship. "I like to do business," he said.

By "business," he meant hooking others up with drugs and staying at different motels every night to avoid drawing attention to himself. That's what he was doing in June last year when the confidential informant told Inspector Daniel Cunningham what Brandon was up to and where he could be found. Of course, that informant isn't exactly an angel. According to the warrant, he is a convicted felon who is assisting police for monetary purposes. Many details of the case are sealed because revealing the information could endanger the life of the informant. The warrant says he directed the officer to a motel, but Cunningham declined to comment for this story because Brandon's court case is ongoing.

Although Brandon said the reporter would have the chance to witness his motel-surfing lifestyle firsthand, text messages and phone calls to him went unreturned. This wasn't all that surprising, considering he had disappeared on nearly everyone else in his life.

In October 2007, he had called in sick to Raging Stallion for a week, co-owner Kent Taylor said. One week became two. Then Brandon wasn't responding to anyone's calls. "He was a partner," Taylor said. "He's still one of the owners of the company, and he's just disappeared." Eventually, Brandon was replaced by a temp, who was hired full-time a few months later. "It was one of the few times since I've been in business with Chris Ward when I've actually seen him cry," Taylor said. Brandon also cut off contact with his friends from Orange County.

The next and final meeting with Brandon took place on his next court date of Sept. 26, a cloudless Friday. Brandon and Monzon had just come from McDonald's, where Brandon again ordered the Southern-style chicken biscuits. "My last meal," he joked without smiling.

In dark sunglasses and a woolly beard, he gave a quick hug hello, revealing a still-skeletal frame beneath his long-sleeved white button-down shirt. He hadn't received any of the reporter's communications, he said with a shrug.

As for where he'd been, he said he was still using, and that he'd been "running around, running away from myself, I guess." He had seen Monzon just three times since the last court date, and never spent the night at their home.

Brandon looked fresher than he had a month ago and seemed slightly more relaxed. "I'm not nearly as spun out as I was last month," he said. "I've slowed down, but I'm still nervous." Because he again believed he might be taken into custody after the hearing, he had organized his belongings and taken care of last items of business. "It sucks. It sucks being where I'm at," he said. "Looking in the mirror, I tell myself, Just put the needle down. Walk away and walk over to Marcos. It doesn't happen."

Brandon's legal problems seemed only to exacerbate his addiction. "With so much turmoil, it gives me relief from my head," he said. Then he said he had to go, and started up the concrete staircase to the courthouse.

The former porn star walked inside and over to a garbage can, where he discarded his iced tea. What he didn't know was that an undercover cop in a Hawaiian shirt was lying in wait.

As Brandon headed for the security line, the cop made his move. Over just a few short seconds, the officer whipped out a pair of cuffs, closed in, pushed Brandon up against the wall, and bound his wrists. Brandon's jaw was tensed in panic as the cop dragged him past the security check and out an emergency door, setting off a loud alarm.

Upstairs in the courthouse, the judge called for Brandon, and Monzon — who had wandered up in the hope that his partner might still make his hearing — called out from his seat. "They took him," he told the judge. "He was on his way here and they took him."

The judge considered issuing a bench warrant, then laughed: "He's in custody here, so what do I have to bench warrant him for?" He rescheduled the hearing for Tuesday, Sept. 30.

When Monzon learned Brandon would be locked up for the weekend, he quickly left the courthouse, made some calls, and learned that Brandon had been arrested on a new drug possession charge. The SFPD released no other details, though it's conceivable that Brandon will now face four felony charges.

If Monzon wants to get his partner out of jail, he'll have to come up with $5,000 of Brandon's $50,000 bail. He isn't sure he's ready to do that just yet. "I might leave him in there for a week or so," he said. "How do I know this won't happen again?"

Though Michael Brandon won't like it, jail may be the only place where he can battle the monster within.

Related Media: Meth and the Porn Star: Michael Brandon Slideshow

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Ashley Harrell


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