Day 6

Podcast chronicling porn star August Ames' suicide sheds light on mental health in adult film

Writer Jon Ronson's new podcast, The Last Days of August, explores the suicide of adult film star August Ames — born as Mercedes Grabowski — and how mental health is addressed among the industry's stars.

Writer Jon Ronson's new podcast is bringing attention to who the industry attracts — and how they're treated

Adult film actress August Ames, left, and adult film producer and Ames' husband Kevin Moore attend the 2016 Adult Video News Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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In his new podcast, author Jon Ronson explores the mysterious suicide of Canadian-born adult film star August Ames and probes the industry's blind spot when it comes to mental health issues among its stars.

It's something that fellow actor and founder of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), Chanel Preston, knows all too well.

"It's just challenging for sex workers in general to get the help they need," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"They tend to not get help because of the experiences they've had with professionals — and I'm not just talking about mental health professionals, but even attorneys or doctors or anyone."

Chanel Preston is an adult film star and founder of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC). (@chanel.preston.official/Instagram)

Ames, born Mercedes Grabowski, was found dead in a park near her California home on Dec. 5, 2017. She was 23.

Her death came two days after she was strongly criticized online for tweeting that she refused to film a scene with a male actor who had previously performed in same-sex porn.

She was also open about her struggles with mental health and said that she was sexually assaulted as a child.

Yet in the adult film world, she was seen as a rising star and received several awards.

"There are a lot of people who do prey on younger women who are more vulnerable and more naive," Preston said. "That sort of stereotype is really sexualized."

The Last Days of August

The podcast, The Last Days of August, is a seven-part series from Audible and comes a year after Ronson's show The Butterfly Effect, which explored the web takeover of the adult film industry.

In August, Ronson explores the death of Ames through interviews with fellow adult film actors and her husband, porn producer Kevin Moore.

According to Ronson, the podcast isn't a true crime story or a murder mystery. Breaking with the format, he dispels any suggestion that she was murdered off the top of the series.

They probably ignore it because the truth is it actually, in some ways, works for the industry, unfortunately.- Chanel Preston, adult film star

Instead, the So You've Been Publicly Shamed author seeks to understand the prevalence of mental health issues in the industry.

"I think the podcast got a lot of things right about the industry," Preston said. "Some of them a little more nuanced than others."

Preston admitted that her role with APAC has at times at times left her conflicted about advocating for the industry as a whole.

"On one hand you want to portray it in a good light because there are really amazing people in the industry — and it's changed over the years," she said.

"But on the other hand, there is still a really dark side to the industry and there is a little bit of that seediness that still exists."

Men still run porn industry

Preston said that seediness comes partially from the fact that the industry is still male-dominated, with men producing scenes and driving the content — even though there are more women now in directorial and managerial positions than before.

"I think naturally that tends to create a dynamic where women are going to be more vulnerable. Also consider that the ease of entry to get into the industry is essentially nothing," Preston explained.

For newcomers who aren't as "well-equipped to be, maybe, in the … 'normal workforce,'" porn provides an easy avenue to do well and make money, she said.

Jon Ronson is the creator, writer and host of the podcasts The Butterfly Effect and The Last Days of August, and author of So You've Been Publicly Shamed. (Emli Bendixen)

It's necessary — but difficult — for young women to find others who can offer support and mentorship, said Preston.

When it comes to supporting adult film actors, APAC offers information on sexual health and the industry's inner workings — a step toward helping performers address their mental health needs.

Still, the industry has room to grow in terms of supporting those struggling with mental health issues.

"They may understand it [mental health issues]," Preston said, "but they probably ignore it because the truth is it actually, in some ways, works for the industry, unfortunately."


To hear the full interview with Chanel Preston, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.


Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.