“SINNER TAKES ALL,” the autobiography of Tera Patrick, begins harrowingly, with the popular porn actress recounting what she can remember, which isn’t much, of a psychotic break she suffered in 2004. Dogged by pressures stemming from a costly lawsuit with the production company Digital Playground, Patrick went on a rampage, destroying her fiance’s Brooklyn loft in a violent fit and prompting him to subdue her with duct tape and drive her to the emergency room.
She was committed to the mental ward for two weeks, and her account of the experience makes for an auspicious beginning for a book about one of the most successful porn actresses of the 2000s. Patrick has built an empire that includes a production company, a lingerie line, an upcoming burlesque show, a Web site offering her own and others’ movies, and now an autobiography written with Carrie Borzillo (author of books on Nirvana and Green Day).
The main thrust (sorry) of “Sinner Takes All” is that Patrick has found the fulfillment and empowerment through porn that she was not afforded in other professional avenues. After a decade in the industry, she is one of the few porn actresses to find any sort of celebrity outside the backrooms of video stores and firewall-blocked Web sites. In fact, along with a few of Tiger Woods’ alleged mistresses and recognizable names like Jenna Jamison and Sasha Grey — not to mention anyone who has had a sex tape — Patrick helped usher porn into the mainstream during the 2000s.
Just as Patrick decries all the “porn chicks” with daddy issues, she herself has her own baggage, which is only nominally addressed in the pages of “Sinner Takes All.” Born to an American father and a Thai mother, Patrick was an awkward girl, athletic but ostracized for her gangly frame and developing figure. Her father moved constantly and her mother was abusive, which she claims sent her on a reckless path: As she writes about her decision to do porn, “I wouldn’t know until years later, after some therapy, that what I was doing was filling the void left by parents who weren’t there for me.”
“Sinner Takes All” is candid, even if Patrick does not dig especially deep into her motivations. At 14 she began modeling and lived in Tokyo for two wild years, where she became addicted to Valium and alcohol and spent her paychecks on shopping sprees. She was, she admits, a “not-so-beautiful mess.” Returning to America, she settled down a bit, studied for her nursing degree, and worked for a few years toiling at a retirement community. A “normal” life at last seemed a possibility, but she hastily quit after a patient attacked her with a loaded bedpan. It may have been humiliating, but it’s one of the most humanizing passages in “Sinner Takes All.”
Patrick fell back on her modeling career, posing nude for a number of magazines and eventually starring in adult films. She is, she says, a “gonzo performer” — in it for the sex and not out of some aspiration toward mainstream acting. “Ladies,” she counsels, “porn is not, I repeat not, the gateway to Hollywood!”
Naive if not exactly innocent, she signed a shady contract with Digital Playground, effectively giving the company more of her earnings than she herself took home. But via a string of popular films as well as a job hosting “Night Calls 411 Live” on Playboy TV, Patrick rose through the ranks of porn actresses to become one of the most popular and profitable stars in the industry, despite being a functioning alcoholic with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
In the early 2000s, she met Evan Seinfeld, the vocalist-bassist for metal act Biohazard, who eventually became her manager, co-star and husband. Described by Patrick as the ultimate tattooed biker bad boy, he seems to have had a positive effect on her, getting her help when she needed and providing much-needed professional advice on her career and her image. He comes across as a saintly rogue in “Sinner Takes All,” but that image abruptly crumbles in the last chapter, when Patrick admits that she filed for divorce in September 2009.
That is the underlying tragedy that is conveyed — not explicitly, but implicitly — in this depressing book: Patrick comes across as an emotionally wounded and not unsympathetic women with a strong will but crippling insecurities. She looks to everyone around her for guidance, whether it’s a father, a husband or even a photographer, but each one seems to fail her in some crucial way. Ultimately, despite her success in the industry, porn is just a backdrop to this story of a woman trying to find some sense of balance and security.
Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner
Photo by Frazier Harrison/Getty Images