Shadows in the Valley

Article by Mitchell Sunderland

Early this March, Nikki Hearts was preparing to speak on a sex-positivity panel in Los Angeles when a bad feeling hit her. The woman she’d married, fellow porn star Leigh Raven, was shooting a scene in the Valley, and Hearts hadn’t heard from her.

Leigh should be done by now, she thought.

She tried calling. No answer. So she contacted Rico Strong, Raven’s male costar.

“We good,” Strong texted when Hearts asked if all was well with Raven and the shoot. “Bring ya black daddy [some] gummie bears please and ya smile.”

He always has his cup, Hearts thought. She had worked and socialized with Strong before, and knew he had a habit of dropping gummie candy into his vodka. Hearts finished her panel, picked up the chewy candy, and drove to the industrial porn studio.

Some 20 minutes later, Raven and Strong emerged together from behind a barred door. As Hearts passed him the bag of gummies, Raven got into the small red car and sat silently. Hearts chatted with Strong for a couple minutes, the actor happy to be done with a six-hour shoot, and looking forward to decompressing with his candied vodka.

After they said goodbye, the two women drove off into the night. Raven was oddly quiet. “What’s wrong?” Hearts asked as they drove down the 101 Freeway.

Raven, head shorn, heavily tattooed, burst into tears. “Oh, my God, what just happened?” she cried out, according to Hearts. Then she grew hysterical.

Strong, she said, had abused her on set.

Raven and Hearts had always liked Rico Strong. A 14-year veteran of the porn business, he had earned a reputation for professionalism and a sense of humor. He began shooting porn at age 18 to support his mother and grandmother, and within a few months he was pulling in $100,000 a year, he says. Over time, Strong became one of the most prominent African-American male porn stars of the Bush era. He calls himself a legend.

“People don’t even recognize you in porn unless you work with Rico,” he tells me in a phone interview. Without appearing alongside Strong, he suggests, “You’re not a girl who can say she’s a star doing interracial.”