LOS ANGELES — Legendary adult industry pioneer and Free Speech icon Larry Flynt has passed away at 78.
The news was first announced by entertainment gossip site TMZ, and confirmed by other sources.
“Family sources tell us the mogul passed Wednesday morning in Los Angeles from heart failure,” TMZ reported in the afternoon.
A few hours later Larry Flynt Publications (LFP) released the following official announcement: “Larry Claxton Flynt Jr. passed away earlier today, Wednesday, February 10, 2021, in Los Angeles at the age of 78, from the recent onset of a sudden illness. He passed quietly in his sleep at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife Liz and daughter Theresa by his side.”
A One-of-a-Kind Icon
Flynt was born on Nov. 1, 1942 in LakeVille, Magoffin County, Kentucky, the man who would one day become a venerated adult entertainment mogul came from very humble beginnings. Nonetheless, the industrious Flynt pursued an eclectic blend of jobs in his youth, ranging from his enlistment in the U.S. Navy in 1960 — where he served as a radar operator for the USS Enterprise (and was on duty when it recovered John Glenn’s space capsule) — to his brief stint as a bootlegger, as well as several months spent with the Inland Manufacturing Company, an affiliate of General Motors.
Then, Flynt began paving his road to fortune in 1965 when he purchased Keewee, his mother’s Dayton, Ohio bar, with $1,800 taken from his savings. He worked grueling hours at the rowdy establishment and soon had it churning out $1,000 a week. Riding on that success, the ambitious entrepreneur opened a high-end nude dancing bar he dubbed the Hustler Club.
In the years that followed, he successfully launched more Hustler Clubs in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio, each of which raked in several hundred thousand dollars a year.
When the 1973 oil crisis triggered a major recession, cutting into Hustler Club profits, Flynt devoted more attention to the fledgling Hustler Newsletter he had launched a year before, revamping it as a nationally distributed adult entertainment magazine — with the first newfangled issue published in July of 1974.
What had begun as a two-page, black-and-white Hustler Club promotional publication in January 1972, growing to 16 pages, then 32 pages, now expanded exponentially, even as Flynt drew ire from distributors for explicit content like “pink-shot” pics of exposed vulvas.
The catalyst that truly catapulted Flynt’s mag into the stratosphere was his acquisition of nude sunbathing photos taken by a paparazzo, of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, which he bought for $18,000 and published in the August 1975 issue. The magazine flew off the shelves, selling a million copies in a few days, and cementing Flynt’s millionaire status in the process. Eventually, the publication would go on to hit a peak circulation of around three million at the height of its popularity.
An Adult Industry Legend
In the wake of that bombshell Kennedy issue, Flynt created Larry Flynt Publications in 1976, which branched out to include various ventures such as mainstream magazines and Hustler Video productions. The brand also christened Hustler Casino, which debuted in June 22, 2000. Soon, LFP’s ever-expanding umbrella organization oversaw everything from the publication of “Barely Legal” mags to the opening of the Hustler Hollywood Store.
The magazine, however, remains one of the most widely recognized pornographic publications on the planet. Besides its graphic depictions of sex, which sets it apart from the less hardcore fare of Penthouse and Playboy, Hustler became known for its features — the “Asshole of the Month” column would administer a verbal lashing to a public figure, the “Honey Hooker” comic strip portrayed the sexual escapades of Honey (as competition for Playboy’s “Annie Fanny” and Penthouse’s “Wicked Wanda”), the “Beaver Hunt” highlighted explicit pics submitted from readers, while its controversial “Chester the Molester” cartoon delved into taboo sexual encounters with young girls tricked into compromising positions.
Given the controversy of his adult entertainment products, Flynt was ceaselessly faced with backlash from all comers, but he held his ground as a free speech crusader to the bone. When he was battling an obscenity charge in Gwinnett County, Georgia, on March 6, 1978, a sniper attacked him and his attorney as they returned to the courthouse.
Partially paralyzed due to spinal damage from the shooting, Flynt suffered tremendous pain and eventually an OD-induced stroke, leading him to don his now-infamous gold-plated wheelchair. The man who shot him, Joseph Paul Franklin, was a white supremacist serial killer incensed by an interracial photo shoot in Hustler.
Free Speech Hero
Flynt would go on to wage numerous legal battles, like his U.S. Supreme Court brawl with Reverend Jerry Falwell in the Hustler Magazine v. Falwell trial, which inspired the Academy Award-nominated “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”
Other notorious fights include Keeton vs. Hustler Magazine, where the girlfriend of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, Kathy Keeton, filed a libel suit against Flynt for outing her via a derogatory cartoon published in 1976, and Flynt even took on his two nephews, Jimmy Flynt II and Dustin Flynt in 2009, for using his family name on what he considered to be inferior pornography at the time.
Flynt had also a varied political trajectory, from his affiliation as a Republican presidential candidate in the 80s to his identifying as a Democrat during Bill Clinton’s presidency. A firebrand known for taking on various politicians with bounties, Flynt once offered a $1 million reward for information on Mitt Romney’s unreleased tax returns and $10 million for evidence leading to Donald J. Trump’s impeachment.
In recent years, Hustler had revamped its site and launched a line of branded vodka, while continuing to open new locations of its iconic store and crowning monthly “Hustler Honey” girls.
“Without Larry and his fight for our first amendment there would not be an adult business as we know it today,” said Doc Johnson’s Ron Braverman. “Most today do not understand the struggles Larry went through to secure our First Amendment rights. This is all his doing.”
Metro’s Ken Guarino said, “Larry and I have been friends for decades. Besides being a legend, he was fearless and innovative. We owe him a great debt for having the courage and tenacity to defend this industry always. My heartfelt condolences to his wife Liz, who has been by his side for many years.”
Paul Fishbein recalled that he “often said during the formative years of AVN that if there hadn’t been a Larry Flynt, there may not have been AVN. He really paved the way, along with Al Goldstein for us ‘younger’ publishers.”
Flynt, added the publication’s founder, “took the raps, the obscenity cases and the bullets, so that we could enjoy free speech. And that goes for the whole adult industry, who owes a huge debt of gratitude to Larry.”
Former Penthouse owner Kelly Holland said, “There were three icons of this industry: Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione and Larry Flynt. Each launched an empire in three subsequent decades and each was utterly unique in their approach.”
“As I wrote when Hugh Hefner passed,” Holland continued, “we are defined as much by our competitors as by our individual visions. And Larry had an impact on Penthouse. Larry was the ultimate disruptor and our industry’s champion of First Amendment rights. He blazed the trail we now all walk down.”
“The last of the titans is gone,” she concluded.
“Larry was a true pioneer of the adult industry, he will be truly missed,” added Kbeech’s Kevin Beechum.
‘A Remarkably Successful Businessperson’
Wicked’s Steve Orenstein hailed Flynt as “a pioneer in our industry.”
“You would be hard pressed to find a stronger advocate for freedom of speech,” Orenstein continued. “He paved the way for the rest of us to have a place and he will be missed.”
Industry attorney Jeffrey Douglas — chair of the Free Speech Coalition — described Flynt, with whom he shared stages over the years, as “a most important figure in American history, especially, but not limited to, the area of free expression.”
Douglas said it was “fortunate that the film ‘The People v. Larry Flynt’ exposed his remarkable story to a wide audience. He was political in all of his endeavors, and a remarkably successful businessperson, in real estate, gambling, marketing and an enormously wide range of magazine publishing.”
Characterizing the Hustler publisher as “irascible, idiosyncratic and astonishingly brave,” Douglas added that from his personal observations, “he lived with, but found ways to overcome, intolerable pain since the assassination attempt — yet he persevered.”
“We are lessened by the void his death has created,” Douglas concluded. “There will never be such a person again.”
XBIZ will continue updating this section with more industry reactions to Flynt’s passing.