Jesse Jane, a onetime Hooters waitress and beauty pageant contestant who went on to star in the highest-budget film series in pornographic film history, was found dead on Wednesday at a home in Oklahoma. She was 43.
The cause was believed to be a drug overdose, said Lt. Francisco Franco of the Moore Police Department in Moore, Okla. He said that officers responded on Wednesday morning for a welfare check at a house where Ms. Jane and her boyfriend, Brett Hasenmueller, had been staying. They were both found dead, Lieutenant Franco said, adding that the deaths remained under investigation.
Ms. Jane, with her sweeping blond hair, high-arched eyebrows and vivacious personality, was a defining star of early 2000s pornography as the internet transformed the industry. She then crossed over into some mainstream productions.
“She was a performer during an era where adult films were seen all over the world, and the promotions were massive,” Brian Gross, a publicist for the porn industry, said in a text message to The New York Times. “She made sure that she gave her all, not only in performing, but in promotion as well.”
Ms. Jane was born Cynthia Ann Howell on July 16, 1980, in Fort Worth, according to public records. Her family settled in the Oklahoma City area when her parents worked at Tinker Air Force Base, according to a 2006 interview Ms. Jane gave The Oklahoma Gazette. She graduated with honors from Moore High School in 1998.
Ms. Jane modeled for retailers like 5-7-9 and David’s Bridal before landing a job with Hooters, the restaurant chain, for a commercial. The Gazette wrote. She worked her way up in the organization to regional training coordinator before deciding to become a full-time Hawaiian Tropic bikini model.
By 2003, she had signed with Digital Playground, a porn studio, debuting in the porn film “Beat the Devil.” She also hosted two shows for the Playboy Channel, “Naughty Amateurs Home Videos” and “Night Calls,” earning awards and acclaim from various industry publications.
Ms. Jane was best known for work in the “Pirates” series of movies, in which she plays the first officer on a ragtag ship of sailors who go after a band of evil pirates. Digital Playground spent $1 million on the first film in 2005 and $8 million on the 2007 sequel, “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge,” notable sums compared with the lower-budget movie costs in the industry.
The introduction of high-definition cameras prompted her to redo her breast implants because the cameras made them bulge oddly onscreen. She shunned the “shock value” approach that pornography took in the mid-2000s and retired from the industry in 2007, then pivoted to creating her own line of sex toys.
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“I got into porn right at the perfect time, when porn stars mattered,” Ms. Jane told GQ in 2018. “They were big, glamorous. You walked into a room, you turned heads. Everybody knew who you were because they actually had to buy your product or DVDs, everything. Porn was so naughty, but everybody watched it.”
“Now the only people that get noticed are the people who go for shock value,” she said.
Ms. Jane’s work was not limited to porn. She was among the rare porn stars who made the jump to mainstream Hollywood, including the 2004 reboot of “Starsky and Hutch” and the HBO series “Entourage.”
Ms. Jane told CNBC in 2009 that she saw performing as a job: “You have to treat it like a job. I’m a mom. I have a family. You know, I bought a house. It’s the way you pay your bills.”
Still, she said that she loved it and would go out of her way to meet her fans.
“I always had fun performing on camera,” Ms. Jane told GQ. “It’s great sex with great people, and it always turned me on that people watched me.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.
A correction was made on
Jan. 25, 2024
An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Jesse Jane’s boyfriend. It is Brett Hasenmueller, not Hasenmuell.
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Remy Tumin is a reporter for The Times covering breaking news and other topics. More about Remy Tumin