CHATSWORTH, Calif.—As news spread this morning of beloved industry stalwart Howard Levine’s passing late Wednesday after his long battle with cancer, a number of those who worked mostly closely with him over his 30-plus-year career shared their thoughts and memories of him with AVN. Their comments follow.
David Peskin, Bizarre Video/Joy Media Group Sales Manager
“I had the honor of working with Howard side by side for nine years selling Vivid together. We were friends for many years before that, and had stayed close since. He was my mentor in business, he was like a second father. But most of all he was a dearest friend. When it came to selling, he was Howard ‘The Machine’ Levine. At the same time, Howard was the epitome of selfless. Always there for anyone who needed him. And there was so many of us. He had a heart of gold. He is in a better place now. Yet he will always remain in my heart. In all of our hearts.”
Jerry, Exquisite Multimedia Owner
“Howard was a great guy and a real character. He along with Marty Turkel and Ed Kail were the true driving force and pioneers behind our industry—our real original industry, not the tube site trash version we’re in now. He will be truly missed and I know I’m going to miss him talking shit and making me crack up at the office. My heart goes out to his family!”
Jodi and Jay West, Forbidden Fruits Films Co-Owners
“One of my favorite memories of Howard is when he sent out our first couple of movies to a few stores to lake a look at and called us two weeks later and said, ‘Son of a bitch, we’ve got something I haven’t seen in awhile: reorders. I’m going to need you to get me everything you have, but first things first—who does your covers, because they suck.’
“‘Um, we do.’
“‘Ya, we gotta fix that.’
“Jay and I will be eternally grateful to Howard for his ‘gentle’ guidance and his blind faith in us.”
Dee Severe, Severe Sex Films Co-Owner
“Howard literally saved our business and made it grow, by believing in us and rescuing us from a distributor that was going out of business. He was the best mentor, and such an awesome, funny, sarcastic, giving person. He taught us so much, and represented everything that’s right about this industry. And like the tough biker guy he was, he reacted to his adversity by getting ‘Fuck Cancer’ tattooed on his arm. I will miss him forever.”
Joanna Angel, BurningAngel Entertainment Co-Founder
“This is a true loss to the industry, and the world at large. Howard’s personality was infectious—I visited him just a few weeks ago and his wit, charm, and even his … inappropriate sense of humor was still there, and it will live forever. I’m glad I got to know him, I’m honored I got to work with him. He brought out the best in me, and he will never be forgotten. Thank you for everything Howard.”
Paul Fishbein, AVN Founder
“He was one of the good original guys in the video business. Personally, I was friends with him because we shared a lot of interests—he was a big Springsteen fan, so we bonded on that, and politically we were definitely on the same page—so we just always got along. He was always a funny guy, always in a good mood. He was truly an original, and I never met anybody that didn’t like Howard, that didn’t like doing business with him, didn’t like being friends with him, because he was always funny and in a good mood, and always looked at the bright side of everything. Even when things were down and out when he was sick and I would call him, he would always talk about the positive stuff. And then also in the last couple of years, a big dose of anti-Trump stuff. It was driving him crazy. I think the fact that Trump outlived him would haunt him, that’s how much he hated Trump. But Howard was a cool guy.”
Steven Hirsch, Vivid Entertainment Co-Founder
“He was kind of the boss in charge of all the salespeople. Howard was an interesting guy to work with—he could be very tough—but he was good and he knew how to sell and I immediately picked up on that. We also were able to bond over the fact that both of us were from Cleveland. He grew up about 20 minutes from where I grew up. I didn’t know him but he went to the same high school as my parents for example. We went to the same temple, so we had those common threads. As a sales guy, that was really important because you’re always looking for an in because you wanted them to push your stuff. Howard was really good. I could tell that right away. The first or second day I was there he asked me to come over to his apartment—this was before he was married—and he had this collection of Bruce Springsteen bootleg albums. I was a huge Bruce fan and he was even a bigger Bruce fan and that was one of the main things we bonded over.
“I remember sitting on the floor with him and thumbing through his Bruce bootlegs—Bruce at The Roxy, Bruce here, Bruce there. He let me borrow some of that stuff and throughout our whole relationship we went to a bunch of Bruce concerts.
“Howard was friends with Danny Federici, who was the accordion player for Bruce. … Unfortunately, Danny died of cancer years ago, but Howard was very good friends with him and continued the friendship with his son throughout the years.
“I knew Howard was really good. When I first started the company I was doing all the sales because it’s not like we could afford to bring in a salesperson. As time went on it was really hard for me to give up the selling part. But when it came time the only person I really thought could do the job was Howard. He was a phenomenal sales person. I’ve dealt with a lot of sales people over the years and no one was like Howard.
“Every day Howard would get in and we used to say, ‘What’s our number today? What’s the number? What’s our goal?’ And then Howard would start pounding the phones. And throughout the day we would keep checking back to see if we could hit the number.
“Then we would go to Vegas [for the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo] and we would have a plan—sell however many thousand pieces, whether it was 100,000 or 125,000 pieces during this trip. Once thing Howard always did is he went to bed early; he didn’t stay up late. We were there to sell and Howard was super focused and really good about that.
“He is partially responsible for the success of the company through the years as we went from VHS and into DVD. My memories of him are very fond. He was a great guy, a hard worker and a relentless salesperson.
“Howard was on another level. He was protective, too. He didn’t like to give up his accounts. A good salesperson never does; he would fight hard for his accounts. If he saw there was a new distributor online, he would call and call and call and inevitably he would be the first guy who would get the order. He was not bashful.
“At one point, between new releases and compilations we were releasing 48 titles a month—that’s a lot. So every week we would have additional titles come out and Howard would get back on the phones, ‘This is what we have this week.’ … That’s not always easy because the distributors are dealing with 50 other companies for their releases, too. So you have to have a really special relationship with them for them take your call and support your products.
“That’s how sales is. You’re either born with it or you’re not. You can’t really teach somebody to be a good salesperson. You can teach them to call every week, and talk to the buyers and have dinners with them at the show—that you can teach. But somebody who is a natural salesperson doesn’t come around that often and you can’t really teach that.”
A memorial service for Howard Levine will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, July 7, at Mount Sinai Simi Valley, located at 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley, CA 93063. No RSVP is required to attend.
As AVN receives more remembrances of Levine, they will be added to this story.