Sunny Leone was born in Sarnia, Ontario to Sikh Punjabi parents. Her father was born in Tibet and raised in Delhi, while her mother (who died in 2008) was from Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh. As a young girl, she was a self-described tomboy, very athletic and played street hockey with the boys.
Although the family was Sikh, her parents enrolled her in Catholic school as it was felt to be unsafe for her to go to public school. When she was 13, her family moved to Fort Gratiot, Michigan, then to Lake Forest, California a year later, fulfilling her grandparents' dream that the family be together in one place. She had her first kiss at 11, lost her virginity at 16 with a basketball player and discovered her bisexuality at 18..
Before working in the porn industry, she worked at a German bakery, a Jiffy Lube, and later a tax and retirement firm. She was also studying to become a nurse.
A black-haired woman wearing a yellow top and jeans sitting behind a table looking up at the camera.
Leone at the 2002 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, one of her earliest promotional appearances
When picking a name for her adult career, she has said that Sunny is her real name and Leone was picked by Bob Guccione, former owner of Penthouse magazine. She posed for Penthouse magazine, and was named Penthouse Pet of the Month for the March 2001 issue, followed by a feature in the Holiday 2001 edition of Hustler magazine as a Hustler Honey. She has also appeared in other magazines including Cheri, Mystique Magazine, High Society, Swank, AVN Online, Leg World, Club International and Lowrider, while her online credits include ModFX Models, Suze Randall, Ken Marcus and Mac & Bumble.
In 2003, she was named "Penthouse Pet of the Year" and starred in the video Penthouse Pets in Paradise alongside Tera Patrick and Kyla Cole. In 2005 Adam & Eve appointed her as their West Coast Internet Sales Representative.
Sunny Leone at AVN Awards 2006
That same year, Leone signed a three-year contract with Vivid Entertainment with which she transitioned into the world of hardcore pornography, stating that she would only do lesbian scenes. Her first movie released was titled Sunny and was released in December 2005. Her next movie, Virtual Vivid Girl Sunny Leone, was the first interactive title for Leone, who was the first Vivid Girl to make such a movie. Taking only four days to film, the movie won her her first AVN Award (Best Interactive DVD). She followed this with Sunny Loves Cher, which featured her first on-screen squirting, and The Female Gardner co-starring Mikayla Mendez and Daisy Marie.
Leone's last two movies under her contract with Vivid were It's Sunny in Brazil, which was filmed in Brazil, and The Sunny Experiment also starring Monique Alexander and Brea Lynn. The movies were released in October and December 2007 respectively.
In May 2007, upon re-signing her contract with Vivid for another six films, Leone agreed to perform for the first time with men on camera, but exclusively with her fiancé, Matt Erikson. That summer she also received breast augmentation, and shot her first movie under the new contract titled Sunny Loves Matt. The movie led to her being nominated for three (out of six) AVN awards in 2009 in addition to being a choice for Female Performer of the Year. She followed up her first boy-girl title with The Other Side of Sunny in October 2008, which would be the last time she would perform with Erikson.
In January 2008, Leone revealed that she was no longer exclusive to Erikson, and had done scenes with other actors, most notably Tommy Gunn, Charles Dera, James Deen and Voodoo. In 2009, Vivid released her only movie performing with other male actors titled "Sunny B/G Adventure". Her final release under contract with Vivid – "Undress Me", once again made her exclusive to performing with just one male actor, Daniel Webber.
In August 2009, she announced the launch of her own studio, Sunlust Pictures, with Daniel Weber as her partner. With her new venture Leone announced her plans to write, direct and create her own brand of adult movies with Vivid Entertainment as her distributor. Her first independent production, The Dark Side of the Sun, was released in March 2009, and was debuted at the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. In June 2009, she held a casting call in Las Vegas for her second independent production titled Sunny Slumber Party (released September 2009).She followed up with three other self-produced features Gia Portrait of a Porn Star (2010) which was nominated for multiple AVN awards, Roleplay (2011) and Goddess (2012) which featured her first anal sex scene.
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