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Legendary Porn Figure Jim Mitchell Dies

California- Jim Mitchell, the Antioch High School graduate who teamed with his brother, Artie, to build a legendary porn empire that included San Francisco’s O’Farrell Theatre and several revolutionary skin flicks — and who in 1991 shot his brother dead — died Thursday night at his Sonoma County ranch home, family and coroner’s officials said.

He was 63.

Mitchell, half of the eccentric Mitchell Brothers duo that became perhaps the nation’s best-known purveyors of dirty films during their heyday in the 1970’s and ’80s, lived in Petaluma with his wife, Lisa. He suffered a heart attack, said Merle Lane, a relative by marriage.

“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 Lane.

It was a quiet ending to what once was a wild life of sex, drugs, porn film-making, strip shows, scores of arrests for obscenity and, in 1991, a Cain-and-Abel-style killing that opened the courtroom curtain to their brash lifestyle and sent Jim Mitchell to prison for three years on a conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

Since their days growing up in a working class Antioch family, the brothers were close and watched out for each other. Jim was two years older, a staunch leftist and savvy businessman. Artie was the younger, crazier and sexually voracious brother, according to a 1992 biography, “X-Rated: The Mitchell Brothers — A True Story of Sex, Money and Death,” by David McCumber, a former
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San Francisco journalist and poker buddy of the Mitchells.

Prosecutors colored the shooting — on a rainy night at Artie’s home in Corte Madera — as a cold-minded bid to control his younger brother. Jim Mitchell’s lawyers claimed Artie, 45, was in an alcoholic tailspin and threatened to kill Jim. They painted the shooting as a desperate attempt to convince Artie, who had fallen into a tailspin of alcohol and drugs, to seek treatment.

Jim Mitchell was armed with a rifle, a handgun, a knife and a box of ammunition when he entered the house and fired eight shots, three of them hitting his brother, the fatal shot in the head. When police arrested him as he walked from the home, he had a .22-caliber rifle stuffed down a pants leg and a revolver in a shoulder holster.

Revealing Mitchell’s wide cast of friends in San Francisco, some of the city’s political elite threw their support behind a lenient sentence for Jim, writing a ream of letters to the judge. But the judge likened him to Robert De Niro’s crazed, driven killer in “Taxi Driver,” saying: “You became Travis Bickle and as a result, Artie is dead. And despite his faults, Artie did not deserve to die.”

Mitchell, who walked away from San Quentin State Prison in 1997, has since lived a quiet life, with horses on the ranch, said family members and friends.

“He seemed terrifically happy,” said Jeannette Etheredge, owner of the Tosca Cafe in North Beach, where two decades ago the brothers often partied.

Mitchell was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, which includes a porn film operation and the theater. But a family members said he periodically checked in on the theater at O’Farrell and Polk streets that anchored his porn fame, and where deceased gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once served as night manager.

A manager at the club declined to comment on Mitchell or his death, saying, “It just happened. We’re just trying to take care of business.” He declined to give his name.

Etheredge, who said she had spoken with Mitchell but hadn’t seen him in years, fondly recalls “a lot of good times at my bar.”

“It just all happened too quickly,” she said of those days. “(They) were quite a pair. I always liked Jim. He was always the sweeter, kinder (brother), a genuinely good guy. Whenever we needed anything, for a film festival or charities, he would always step up to the plate.”

The brothers’ porno kingdom began modestly in Antioch, where Jim graduated from the high school in 1962. They sold nude photos to flesh magazines in San Francisco during the sex explosion of the late ’60’s.

Soon they were making small porn films. They reached cult status, fame and profit in 1972 with “Behind the Green Door,” starring porn icon Marilyn Chambers, followed by “Resurrection of Eve” in 1973, “Sodom and Gomorrah: The Last 7 Days” in 1975 and several other now-cult films that were hailed for taking porn from the dark, dirty corners with higher production values, humor and social commentary.

In all, the brothers would produce hundreds of films, face and beat more than 100 arrests on obscenity charges and help pave the trail for what has become a multi-billion dollar adult movie industry.

THE SAGA OF THE MITCHELL BROTHERS

July 4, 1969: Jim and Artie Mitchell open the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre at the corner of O’Farrell and Polk streets in San Francisco.

1971: The Mitchell Brothers make their landmark pornographic film “Behind the Green Door” starring Marilyn Chambers. The film cost $60,000 to make and grossed more than $25 million.

1974: The Mitchell brothers make the film “The Resurrection of Eve.” Their business now operates 11 theaters, including venues in Los Angeles and Santa Ana.

1970s — 1980s: The Mitchell brothers’ theaters are raided by police and the brothers’ lawyers go to court again and again to defend them against charges they are violating prostitution and anti-obscenity laws. The brothers reduced their number of theatres to four by 1978.

1990: Jim Mitchell paddles a surfboard into the waves off Ocean Beach to save Artie and his nephew Storm who were caught in a riptide and huge surf. The Mitchell brothers gave a $10,000 check and lifetime passes to their flagship theater to the six members of the San Francisco Fire Department’s Surf Rescue Squad who helped rescue them.

February 27, 1991: Jim Mitchell goes to Artie’s home in Corte Madera, kicks in the front door and fires eight shots at his brother. Artie Mitchell, 45, is pronounced dead at the scene.

March 7, 1991: A Marin County grand jury indicts Jim Mitchell on charges of murdering his brother.

March 8, 1991: Jim Mitchell is arraigned on murder charges.

April 24, 1992: Mitchell is sentenced to six years in prison — two months after a jury finds him guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder.

December 5, 1994: Mitchell enters San Quentin State Prison to begin serving his sentence.

October 3, 1997: Mitchell is scheduled to be released from prison. He will be on parole for three years. He is ordered to remain in San Francisco and obtain permission from his parole agent if he wishes to travel elsewhere.

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