LOS ANGELES — The Free Speech Coalition mourns the passing of pioneering gay adult photographer, illustrator, filmmaker and visionary Jim French, founder of COLT Studio. French died in Palm Springs on Thursday at 84.
French was already an accomplished commercial illustrator when he launched a mail-order company, Luger, in the mid-1960s, to distribute erotic photo sets of rugged men. In 1967, under the name Rip Colt, he founded COLT Studio, and began producing and selling illustrations, photos, and, eventually, movies. From the start, COLT was an industry leader, quickly earning a reputation among consumers for its artistry, erotics and distinctive COLT men.
French was one of a handful of men, including the Athletic Model Guild’s Bob Mizer and Falcon Studio’s Chuck Holmes, who not only helped invent the gay porn industry, but helped shape gay male identity at a time when mainstream depictions of gay men were overwhelming negative.
“We have truly lost a legend,” said Eric Paul Leue, Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition. “Jim risked his life and livelihood to build a company that would influence generations of gay men, and provide a path forward for an industry just coming out of the shadows.”
French’s influence extended well beyond the adult community. An early COLT illustration was adapted by fashion designer and punk impresario Malcolm McLaren for an iconic t-shirt later worn by performers like Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux. One of French’s photos appeared as the cover of The Smiths’ “Hand in Glove” single.
In recent years, galleries in New York, London and Palm Springs have held retrospectives of French’s work.
Forty years after its founding, COLT Studio Group still sells high-quality all-male erotica and pleasure products.
French is survived by his partner Jeff Turner.