Jim Mitchell, 1943 -2007

PETALUMA, Calif. - Legendary pornographer Jim Mitchell died of a heart attack Thursday night at his Sonoma County ranch home. He was 63.

"He was sitting in his chair and doing something, I think watching TV, and he just, 'Ehhhh.' That was it. His heart quit him just like that," said Merle Lane, a relative by marriage.

Based in San Francisco where they ran the famous O'Farrell Theater, Mitchell and his younger brother, Artie, helped usher in the era of porno chic with the 1972 Marilyn Chambers hit Behind the Green Door. The brothers went on to produce and distribute such adult film classics as The Resurrection of Eve, Autobiography of a Flea, and Sodom and Gomorrah; along the way, they were arrested hundreds of times and successfully beat numerous obscenity charges.

The Mitchell Brothers also pioneered home video distribution. Behind the Green Door was one of the first X-rated movies widely distributed on video in the late 1970s, making Mitchell Brothers Video one of the giants of early video distribution.

In the 1980s, the Brothers returned briefly to movie production, on video, first with The Grafenberg Spot, an all-star celebration of G-spot orgasm, and later Behind the Green Door: The Sequel, designed as a safe-sex awareness movie at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

Most of the Brothers' passion and showmanship, however, was channeled into their O'Farrell Theater. They turned it from a pornflick grindhouse into a high-end sex emporium with non-stop strippers and lap dancers entertaining crowds of tourists. Like their movies it was the subject of many closure attempts but nevertheless managed to thrive.

In the 1980 Jim and Artie became mentors and role models to a new breed of erotic entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. Magazine publishers, sexual columnists, novelists, independent filmmakers found themselves on the receiving end of their advice and support.

The brothers' groundbreaking porn flicks brought them everlasting notoriety -- but Jim Mitchell became even more infamous for shooting his brother to death in 1991. He served three years in San Quentin State Prison for involuntary manslaughter. David McCumber chronicled the events leading up to the shooting in his book, "X-Rated: The Mitchell Brothers -- A True Story of Sex, Money and Death" (later adapted as a mediocre made-for-cable movie starring Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen.)

Released in 1997, Mitchell spent the remainder of his life living quietly on the ranch in Sonoma with his horses. "He seemed terrifically happy," said Jeannette Etheredge, owner of the Tosca Cafe, a former hangout of the Mitchell brothers in North Beach.

Among the performers who got their start in the adult business thanks to the Mitchell Brothers was AVN Hall of Famer Nina Hartley, who started out dancing at the O'Farrell and later appeared on screen for the brothers in The Grafenberg Spot.

"I am very saddened to hear this news," Hartley told AVN. "My condolences go out to his wife, who was a co-worker of mine. I got my start in adult entertainment as a house dancer for the Mitchell Brothers back in 1983, so I knew Jim as my boss. He and Artie were my bosses for the first two years of my adult career. It was an amazing space for people like me to have sex on stage and meet the fans up close and personal – he had an incredible vision for sexuality at that time that meshed very well with mine."

Hartley told AVN she had not seen Mitchell since his incarceration. "I always found him to be the calm one, the non-crazy-on-drugs one; for lack of a better word, the saner of the two," she said. "Artie was an out-of-control person. I remember when I got the news that Jim had killed Artie, and I just knew in my gut at the time that he didn't mean to kill him – he only meant to scare him."

Mitchell is survived by his wife, Lisa.

AVN's Jared Rutter also contributed to this report.