Early life and military career
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, when Barresi was 12 his family moved to Annapolis, Maryland for his father's job at the United States Naval Academy. Barresi was offered a wrestling scholarship to the University of Maryland but opted to instead enlist in the United States Air Force during the height of the Vietnam War. Barresi served at bases in the United States and the Philippines, and he was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1971 after completing his tour at March Air Force Base. Upon returning to civilian life, he soon began working as a fitness trainer at a gym in nearby Riverside, California.
Work in modeling, theater and film
In the summer of 1972 Hollywood film producer Ismail Merchant spotted Barresi standing outside the set during the filming of The Wild Party in Riverside, California and offered him a job on the spot working as personal assistant to the film’s star Raquel Welch. He was later given a small role as the bartender in the movie, released in 1975. In March 1974, Barresi was featured in Playgirl magazine with Cassandra Peterson, better known today as Elvira ‘Mistress of the Dark’. The following year he was selected by Rip Colt as an early Colt model and featured on the cover of the November 1975 of Mandate. In December 1978, Barresi was handpicked by Larry Flynt himself to be the first man ever to appear on the cover of Hustler. The print modeling led to dozens of offers to star in adult film. Barresi's natural muscled build and unique persona on film made him into one the highest paid and most sought after adult film icons of the 70’s, starring in adult film classics including Co-ed Fever, Bad Girls II, All American Girls II and Secret of Stage Five. Barresi wrote, produced and directed award-winning adult films. In 1992 Barresi, using the name "Joe Hammer", won the Gay Video Guide Award in the Best Specialty Release category for the fetish video, "Razor Close". Barresi has been nominated for several other AVN Awards, including 8 nominations for the 1998 gay mafia epic which he wrote, directed, and produced, titled GoodFellas/BadFellas, and featuring him in a non-sexual role. Barresi earned a 2003 GayVN Awards nomination for "Best Non-Sex Performance — Gay or Bi" for Long Strokes, noting he got the nod "just for taking my shirt off; if I knew they wanted more, I'd have done more." Barresi also won the 2007 GayVN award and a 2007 Grabby award for "Best Non-Sex Performance" for his work in Velvet Mafia (parts 1 and 2). And in 2008, Barresi was inducted into the GayVN Hall of Fame.
Barresi continued to direct adult films, including several popular titles for the gay market, and was particularly noted for his military themes. Adult Video News has said Barresi's directorial efforts make him "undisputedly the king of military-themed videos."
In addition to his work in pornographic film and video, Barresi toured in a 1980 summer stock suite of scenes from Neil Simon plays, headlined by Paul Lynde. Barresi had several roles in mainstream film and television projects, including Perfect, Spontaneous Combustion, JAG and Father Dowling Mysteries. Barresi told Entertainment Tonight of the difficulty crossing over into mainstream film: "No one really takes a porn actor seriously ... and no one really respects a porn actor."
Involvement with tabloids and celebrity scandals
Michael Jackson allegations
In the wake of 1993 child sexual abuse accusations against Michael Jackson, Barresi was asked by French nationals Stella Marcroft (a former girlfriend of Barresi’s) and her common law husband Philippe Lemarque to help them sell a story of allegedly having witnessed Jackson molest child actor Macaulay Culkin while under Jackson’s employ at the Neverland Ranch in 1991. They promised Barresi 10% of whatever number he could get for them, however, the offer had to be no less than $100,000. Within three days Barresi got them an offer from Jerry George at the National Enquirer of $150,000, cash on the table, however in the interim the apparently greedy French couple went over Barresi’s head by finding a Beverly Hills lawyer Arnold Kessler, who persuaded them to dismiss Barresi and refuse Enquirer’s offer; promising a much bigger pay day to the tune of a half a million dollars for their story. It did not take long for Barresi to learn of the French couples betrayal; after which he immediately went into action by secretly tapping them tell their story once again about how they allegedly saw Jackson inappropriately touching Culkin. In February 1994 Barresi was prominently featured in a PBS Frontline documentary entitled ‘Tabloid Truth’ The Michael Jackson Story. He spoke candidly and in great detail about his involvement and how he got the upper hand on the French couple who betrayed him.
Barresi: "I called the editor at The Globe and I said, 'I have a tape, I'm on the way down town to hand it to the District Attorney.' And his words were, 'let us come with you.' And then I knew I had him. The next thought in my mind was I'm going to ask for $30,000. You always ask for twice as much as what you hope to get. He put me on hold, and within less than a minute he came back and he said 'well, we can't give you thirty, we'll give you ten.' I said 'make if fifteen,' he said 'you have a deal.'" Reporter: "Could you see the headlines coming? Barresi: "Oh yeah, sure, and I could see that money coming too."
According to Maureen Orth of Vanity Fair, Barresi had arranged the $15,000 deal with The Globe, but he got impatient and contracted tabloid broker Kevin Smith of Splash News Service, who placed it with The Daily Mirror for $2,400. When the Globe deal came through, Smith could not undo the Mirror deal, and the Mirror scoop kept Barresi from getting paid by The Globe. Smith claims Barresi came to his office "with a gun and a huge bodyguard," and Smith arranged for Barresi to get $1,000. In the end, the DA decided that the stories of the LeMarques and that of the Quindoys (who also sold their story to the tabloids) could not be used. Barresi ended up making $30,000 in total on the Jackson story.
Involvement with Anthony Pellicano
Barresi told ABC News about his work with Anthony Pellicano, "Whenever there was a damaging story involving a celebrity client that involved sex, then I was involved." Barresi said that Pellicano hired him to "get dirt on" Pellicano's former client Sylvester Stallone.
The actor's phone was allegedly bugged by Pellicano during a lawsuit over Planet Hollywood. Barresi told Vanity Fair that Pellicano had a vendetta against Stallone after the two had a falling-out: "Pellicano hired me on two occasions to find dirt on Stallone.The first time was in 1995 or '96 and then again in late 2001."
Barresi told LA Weekly that Pellicano hired him when Arnold Schwarzenegger was considering running for governor in 2001, "to look for information that may be of good use to Schwarzenegger’s detractors," so Schwartzenegger's team could prepare for any damage control. Barresi submitted 27 pages but could not say who requested the probe.
Barresi also says that he was sought out for comment by the press as the 2002-2008 Pellicano criminal-defense case unfolded. Barresi told the New York Times he has been aiding the defense team for entertainment lawyer Bertram Fields, a long-term client of Pellicano's who is now under investigation, in hopes of a later payday. Barresi also reportedly worked with attorneys for producer Jules Nasso in 2006. As part of a lawsuit, they seek Pellicano's wiretapped calls for any evidence that Steven Seagal ordered Pellicano to terrorize former Variety reporter Anita Busch  In May 2006, Barresi turned over tapes from Mitteagerwith transcriptions to the FBI. 
Pellicano was sentenced in December 2008 to 15 additional years in prison for wire taping and racketeering. He had previously served for illegal firearms and homemade grenades. Pellicano was further ordered (with two other defendants) to forfeit $2 million.