MATTITUCK, N.Y.—Award-winning director and actress Candida Royalle died at dawn today at her home in Mattituck, Long Island, after a long illness. Royalle had suffered for years from recurrent bouts of ovarian cancer, often recovering enough after treatment to participate in the activities she loved. However, according to her longtime friend (and fellow Club 90 member) Annie Sprinkle, "A few weeks ago she had to go to the hospital for a few days. Her doctor, whom she loved a lot, told her she had run out of treatment options and to begin basic hospice care. She had planned to move to Manhattan this fall to be closer to more friends in what she thought would be her last few months or year. Then just about five days ago, Candice started slipping away quickly and it became evident that it was unlikely to recover."
Candida Royalle, born Candice Vadala, was born on October 15, 1950, in Brooklyn, and spent most of her life and career in the New York City area, though she lived in San Francisco for a time in the 1970s. She entered the adult industry in 1975, starring in the VCX movie The Analist, and over the course of her nine years in front of the camera, acted in nearly 70 films before deciding that she belonged behind the camera—a move that solidified her place in the history of adult cinema. Royalle created Femme Productions, the first adult production studio to be owned solely by a woman and to produce films from a woman's perspective. Among her works to be hailed by critics were 1984's Femme, starring Carol Cross, Sharon Kane and Rhonda Jo Petty, and Urban Heat, where she utilized the talents of Cross, Kane, Taija Rae, Marita Ekberg and Tish Ambrose.
Some of Royalle's most memorable films, however, were Three Daughters, which received what today would be the equivalent of 4 As from AVN, and Sensual Escape, a compilation of two of Royalle's shorter films and starring Annie Sprinkle, Siobhan Hunter, Nina Hartley, Veronica Hart and Richard Pacheco. The film received what was then a perfect rating: AAAA.
In all, Royalle directed 19 movies, first solely under her Femme Productions studio, and then, after a production/distribution deal was struck with Adam & Eve Pictures in the late '90s, under the Femme Productions/Adam & Eve label.
But movies were hardly Royalle's only contribution. In 1999, she partnered with Dutch industrial designer Jandirk Groet to create the ground-breaking line of Natural Contours vibrators—a design that had never before been seen in an adult novelty, and one which is widely imitated today.
"Candice was a great lady, a visionary with her Femme movies and Natural Contours massagers, hard working with her book, her charity and causes, and a wonderful friend," summarized Bob Christian, head of production for Adam & Eve Pictures.
Moreover, according to Sprinkle, "Royalle gained international acclaim as a pioneer in female sexual empowerment and expression, and she became a sought-after speaker, lecturing extensively at such venues as the Smithsonian Institute, the World Congress on Sexology, and several universities and professional conferences. She’s been a guest on countless TV talk shows and written up everywhere from The New York Times to The Times of London. In October, 2004, Royalle authored, How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do (Simon & Schuster/Fireside). Royalle was a member of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT); in 2014 she received a Doctorate in Human Sexuality for her life’s work from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She was a founding member of Feminists for Free Expression (FFE), [and] a long time animal rights champion. In 1985, Candice co-founded the first porn star support group, Club 90, of which she was an active core member until her death, and will continue to be a member in spirit."
In 2003, Royalle was featured in the 30th anniversary issue of Playgirl magazine, wherein she discussed on the sexual revolution and creating female-friendly porn with Sprinkle, and in 2006, Royalle won one of the first Lifetime Achievement Awards from Good For Her's Feminist Porn Awards, and in 2009, also took home one of the first European Feminist Porn Awards. She also received kudos from the sex researchers who authored The Porn Report, and in 2012, she was one of the primary speakers at the first International Film Festival of Female Directors of Erotic Cinema, held in Mexico City.
More recently, Royalle started a Kickstarter campaign to fund an autobiographical documentary of herself, to be titled While You Were Gone: The Untold Story of Candida Royalle, which she was in the process of filming with Canadian filmmaker Sheona McDonald. Although the campaign did not generate the funds requested, the film may still be released as almost all of the footage for it had been shot before Royalle's death.
Since her passing, Royalle's Facebook page has been filled with applause for her film and other work, as well as memories shared by her many friends.
"Rest in peace to one of the women who made my career possible," wrote famed actress and sex educator jessica drake. "Candida Royalle was not only inspiring from afar, but when I had the pleasure of meeting her at Catalyst, her words were exactly what my soul needed. Grateful to have had the chance to talk to her and thank her for leading the way."
In response to an inquiry, Royalle's longtime friend and star of Sensual Escape Nina Hartley wrote, "I am greatly saddened by the passing of Candida Royalle, a true pioneer, visionary, artist, friend and mentor. She set the standard for ethical, conscious and ground-breaking adult entertainment. As beautiful inside as she was on the surface, she was a stickler for proper treatment of performers before it was trendy. She was laughed at for thinking women's perspectives on sexuality were important, but everyone stole that idea from her. She started the 'couple's porn' phenomenon, which continues to this day.
"She was a fierce, proud feminist," Hartley continued. "She navigated the male-dominated world of sex toy design and development, and led the way as an entrepreneur in a very challenging marketing environment. Five years before the Pink Ladies Social Club began, she and her friends in NYC started Club 90, a peer-support group for women in the adult entertainment industry.
"A dedicated heterosexual, she was kind enough to let me flirt and dance with her. She had style, dignity, self-worth, intelligence to burn and never gave up on love. She enjoyed the finer things in life without shame. She loved her home, her cats, her friends and the life she made for herself, on her terms. I will always regret that I never was able to visit her at her home on Long Island but it is a comfort to know that she was surrounded at the end by those who loved her and whom she loved. We should all be so lucky to have friends like she did, or to be the kind of friend that she was. R.I.P., Candida. You made a difference in the world."
Howie Gordon, the former Richard Pacheco, contributed the following poem:
"This was a life well-lived!
"She drank every drop!
"What a joy it was to watch her blossom!
"What gifts she brought for everyone!"
"Saddened by the passing of Candida Royale; it was an honor and a privilege to speak with her and learn from her," Gordon added. "A legend and a pioneer upon whose shoulders we stand in the world of art that challenges patriarchy and pushes for better art that explores sexuality, and in my humble opinion a better, healthier world. Thank you for the inspiration and lessons, Candida. We carry them on…"
According to Sprinkle, "Memorials in New York, LA and San Francisco will likely be held sometime around November, so that there is time for everyone to plan."
As more of Royalle's friends and co-workers respond to AVN's inquiries, this article will be updated.