Porn star Harry Reems is shown in Park City, Utah

Porn star Harry Reems, shown in Park City, Utah, started selling real estate after he stopped abusing alcohol in the late 1980s. He also turned toward religion. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Harry Reems, who starred with Linda Lovelace in the 1972 pornographic film "Deep Throat" and became a cause celebre in Hollywood after he was convicted on federal obscenity charges related to the movie, has died. He was 65.

Reems, who had pancreatic cancer and other ailments, died Tuesday at a Salt Lake City veterans hospital. His death was confirmed by the Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Healthcare System.

He arrived on the Miami set of "Deep Throat" as the lighting director but when the man hired to portray the doctor in the film failed to show up, director Gerard Damiano said: "Put on this coat; you're acting," Reems told The Times in 2005.

At first he enjoyed the celebrity that accompanied starring in one of the most successful pornographic films of all time.

"You could call me the Shirley Temple" of adult films, Reems told an interviewer when "Deep Throat" was released. "Take an X film and make it an R because I have a PG body."

That changed in 1974 when he was charged along with 10 others with conspiring to distribute "Deep Throat" across state lines.

It marked the first time that the federal government had tried to charge an actor for the results of a film's distribution.

After he was convicted in 1976, The Times ran an editorial in defense of Reems under the headline "The Anti-Freedom Conspiracy" and pointed out that noted constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz had volunteered to handle Reems' legal appeal.

"If this conviction stands, no actor and no writer anywhere in the country will be safe from prosecution," Dershowitz said, according to the editorial.

Hollywood's A-list also took note. Celebrities such as Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Gregory Peck helped raise funds to pay Reems' legal bills.

Reems was granted a new trial but the charges were eventually dropped.

The damage to his personal life had been done. While waiting to go on trial, "the heavy drinking began in Memphis," Reems said in 2005 in The Times, and he became a "2-quart-a-day vodka drinker" who at one time lived "in the back of an Albertsons' dumpster in Malibu."

He didn't stop drinking until the late 1980s, when he ended up in Park City, Utah, and entered a 12-step alcohol recovery program.

Once sober, he sold real estate. Reems also turned toward religion.

"I put God in first position, not me," Reems told Utah's Deseret Morning News in 2006, "because anything I had ever done almost killed me."

The son of a small-time bookie and a housewife, he was born Herbert Streicher on Aug. 27, 1947, in New York City. At 18, he joined the Marines but received a hardship leave when his father became terminally ill.

Returning to New York in 1967, he acted in experimental and Off-Off-Broadway productions but turned to adult films when he couldn't pay his bills, according to a 2011 New York magazine article titled "The Afterlife of a Porn Star."

He went on to appear in more than 100 hard-core films that included 1973's "The Devil in Miss Jones." Reems also was interviewed in the 2005 documentary "Inside Deep Throat."

In the late 1970s, he moved to Los Angeles and secured a role as a coach in "Grease" but was let go because filmmakers feared his notoriety would jeopardize the box office in the South, according to the New York profile.

"Acting was my true love," Reems told the magazine, "and I buried that possibility by going into adult films."

Survivors include his wife, Jeanne, whom he married in 1990, and a brother.

news.obits@latimes.com