A Candle for Roman

What anger, what cruelty, what personal meanness could lead those online commenters to mock a beautiful man's untimely death? Dror Barak spent his life being judged in public, but he had nothing to be ashamed of. These anonymous, cowardly, ugly-souled bullies do.
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Dror Barak's hot body was barely cold when the online vultures came to pick at him.

I met Dror at a gym four years ago, when he came over to help me with an exercise that I was doing wrong; he was worried that I might hurt myself. By then he was building a career as a personal trainer, but I recognized him, as many did, from his brief foray into gay porn. A square-jawed and hairy bodybuilder, he had fired up the screen in a dozen or so movies under the name "Roman Ragazzi" before he left the business in 2008.

His porn persona was tough, with a military edge (he had served in the Israeli army in his youth), but in real life he was shy, smart, sweet-natured, and serious. We saw each other socially from time to time, and I was devastated to learn, in late February, that he had taken his own life at the age of 38. My sadness turned to fury when I made the mistake of reading the comments sections on websites that had reported Dror's death.

"A nation grieves," sneered one commenter on Queerty. "Go to any gym in WeHo or Manhattan and you'll find tons of guys that look just like him and want to take his place, and are basically just as useless." An anonymous sniper on Datalounge had a similar response: "Boo hoo. Another dead, fucked up pornie." Other posters shared their opinions that men who acted in porn films were "monsters," "glorified prostitutes," "gross, sad creatures," and "rancid... alcoholic...drugged-up idiots." (Ten Queerty readers, asked to describe the report on Dror's suicide, hit the "LOL" tag.)

Many commenters took Dror's death as an occasion for assumptions and moralizing. Dror, they guessed, was a meth addict and/or a prostitute and/or a failure. "It's unfortunate but typical of many porn/ex-porn stars who get into drugs and escorting to keep up their lifestyle," wrote one. "He recently retired and started up an online fitness site. The business presumably did not do well?" wrote another. A third veered into wild speculation: "I don't know if he used his good looks to assist drug dealers in whatever games they dream up to humiliate their victims."

A comment on Out.com summed up this wing of opinion succinctly: "Nice people don't do porn."

But nice guys do do porn, and Dror was one of them. "He had such a gentle soul," recalls Sam, his last boyfriend. "He was the most affectionate person I've ever dated. He loved really hard." Dror was devoted to animals (he dreamed of leaving the city and starting a rescue service for Labrador Retrievers) and intensely protective of the people in his life. "He always wanted to create a world for us inside this Chelsea gay world," his boyfriend says. "He wanted us to be sheltered and safe: our own thing, inside a bubble."

That bubble was important because Dror was far from the drug-addled party stud that his posthumous attackers imagine. "I don't go out much, I don't drink, I don't do any drugs," Sam says. "Not that many other people have that lifestyle who are gay and living in New York. We really connected over that." Friends remember Dror as intelligent and well-informed about world events. He was an official at the Israeli consulate until the New York Post exposed him as a porn actor in 2007 (before his films had even come out); he had a degree in Middle Eastern studies, spoke Arabic, and subscribed to the public-policy journal Foreign Affairs.

Dror did not work as an escort, and porn was just a means to an end. "He was driven and ambitious," recalls Jake Deckard, who made several movies with him for the studio Raging Stallion. "He was doing porn purely as a means to produce capital for his private trainer business; he walked in with a very high price tag, and got exactly what he wanted. I thought it was really awesome that he understood his value. I quietly hoped that he would succeed in a major way."

Dror spent the last years of his life working toward that success. "I've never seen a personal trainer work so hard in my life," Sam says. "He was constantly reading books; he had a vast knowledge of every facet of his work." He often went to sleep at 9 p.m. and woke up at 5 a.m. to start training. And his efforts paid off: Dror's business was booming, with a regular stable of high-level clients.

And then he killed himself. We can't know what was in Dror's mind that day. But those closest to him say that the sadness that consumed him was not related to drugs, AIDS, the porn world, the New York Post, or any of the other villains imagined online. His pain, they say, dated back to before he became the imposing brute worshipped and resented by strangers, all the way back to when he was just a boy, neglected and underfed and brutalized by sexual predators. Though he never went into details, friends say that he was raped repeatedly as a child.

"He was smart, he was educated, he was beautiful, he had a successful business that he had built from nothing, but nothing took enough of the pain away," Sam says. "He told me that he felt pain every day from his childhood. He woke up every morning remembering what he went through." Protective of his public image as a powerful, positive person, an image integral to his success as a trainer, he kept his private hurt to himself. Eventually he found it overwhelming.

"I want people to know that he was abused, because I do not want people to think that he was just this beautiful god who had everything," says Sam. "This big, strong image was a defense mechanism. Somebody took his chance away, in his childhood. More than one person took his chance away at a normal life. They took a sensitive and gentle soul, and they broke it."

It may be hard to think of big, powerful Roman Ragazzi as the victim of bullies. But that's what he was in many ways: first as a boy, then in his suffering mind, and now, again, at the hands of petty, vicious people who hide in the shadows of the Internet to jeer at the graves of their betters.

It doesn't even matter that these creeps are so wrong about Dror as a person. Even if Dror had been an escort; even if he had been addicted to drugs; even if he had been stupid, or sick, or unsuccessful, he would have been a human being who deserved our consideration and respect. Last month, another gay-porn star, Matt Bremer, who went by the name "Sean" on the Corbin Fisher website, died suddenly at the age of 22. Bremer had a history of drug problems, but I defy anyone to read his grandmother's reaction to his death and still dismiss him.

Those who look down on porn say that it objectifies the men who perform in it. But those very critics are often the ones who refuse to think of porn stars as real people -- with feelings, hopes, personalities, histories, and complicated motives -- in the first place. What anger, what cruelty, what personal meanness could lead those online commenters to mock a beautiful man's untimely death? Dror Barak spent his life being judged in public, but he had nothing to be ashamed of. These anonymous, cowardly, ugly-souled bullies do.

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