Larry Flynt, who built a porn empire with Hustler, dies at 78

Feb 11, 2021 Travel News

Larry Flynt, who built a porn empire with Hustler, dies at 78

Larry Flynt, a ninth grade dropout who built a $ 400 million empire of steamy publications, strip clubs and ‘adult’ shops around his sexually explicit magazine Hustler, and spent decades struggling on charges of obscenity and libel as a press, died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 78 years old.

The cause was heart failure, said his brother, Jimmy Flynt.

For a nation in the throes of a sexual revolution in the 1970s, Mr. Flynt – provocative, scandalous, relentless – stood at the crossroads of a cultural and legal war in America: an unpopular hero to civil libertarians, the Devil incarnate in a unlikely alliance of feminists and preachers of morality, an enigma for judges and juries, and a supplier of guilty secrets to legions of men sneaking into porn stores or into the mailbox with packages of brown paper.

Hustler’s June 1978 cover captured the riddles of a magazine that was salacious, satirical, perverse, decadent, gleefully immoral and hypocritical. It depicted a woman upside down and halfway through a meat grinder, with a plate of hamburger underneath. A “seal of approval” read: “Premium. Latest issue for all meat. Rose of “A” quality. A caption quoted Mr. Flynt: ‘We will no longer hang women up like pieces of meat.’

But, of course, Hustler wasn’t serious. Starting with its first issue, in July 1974, and continuing for four decades, it posted brilliant, color photos of female genitals, naked women in degrading poses, and often group sex and toy fetishes. sexual.

Hustler’s articles featured “Larry Flynt on Sex in the White House,” “Coverbabe: New Slut in Town” and “Dirty Bedfellows: Explicit Photos and Sordid Tales of a Real Washington Intern.” But it wasn’t just sex; there were also articles like “The Politics of Torture”, “The Grenada Invasion: The Real Story Behind Reagan’s” Facts “” and “Shocking New Facts in Covering Up the JFK Assassination” .

Mr. Flynt’s most significant legal victory came in a long fight against Reverend Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist and founder of the Moral Majority, who sued $ 45 million for libel and emotional distress in 1983 after that Hustler published a parody in which he remembered. about a sexual encounter with his mother in an addiction.

A jury dismissed the libel charge, saying the parody was clearly not factual, but awarded Mr. Falwell $ 200,000 for emotional distress. In 1988, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected damages, calling the parody a constitutionally protected political satire.

Mr. Flynt hailed the decision as the most significant First Amendment victory since the ban on obscenity on James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was overturned in the 1930s.

Despite all the notoriety of Mr. Flynt, his image as a defender of free speech was supported in 1996 with the film by Milos Forman “The People vs. Larry Flynt ”, who portrayed him as some sort of American folk hero, a coal peddler wrapped in stars and stripes. Woody Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Mr. Flynt. The film won praise from many critics and most, but not all, civil libertarians.

But feminist Gloria Steinem wrote a scathing denunciation on the New York Times’ Op-Ed page. “A pornographer is not a hero,” she says. “Hustler is portrayed as clingy at worst, and possibly even honest for showing complete nudity. What remains are the magazine’s images of battered, tortured and raped women, women subjected to degradations ranging from bestiality to sexual slavery.

The images featured in Hustler were certainly graphic and often violent: women were depicted crawling on the end of a dog leash, nailed to a cross, bagged like a deer, and tied to a luggage rack. A blanket showed a woman’s head in a gift box.

Hustler claimed a monthly circulation of three million in the mid-1970s, although Forbes said it peaked at two million in 1976. With explicit sex on cable TV, DVD, and the Internet, its broadcast has sharply dropped in the 80s and 90s. In 1997, The Times reported that Hustler’s print runs were under one million, but half of newsstand copies were returned unsold. In 2015, Mr. Flynt cited a circulation of 500,000 copies.

The magazine’s revenues have funded many Flynt businesses for years: dozens of magazines, some mainstream but mostly pornographic, including Taboo, Barely Legal and Asian Fever, the number and nature of which varied over time; Hustler strip clubs in a dozen cities; and perhaps an equal number of Hustler chain stores that sold pornographic videos, as well as clothing, magazines, and sex toys.

Mr. Flynt also owned a casino in Gardena, California; exploited websites that sell pornography; and licensed the Hustler name to magazines and other sexually-oriented businesses in Canada, Britain, South Africa and Australia. Its main profit centers included Hollywood studios that produced pornographic films, videos and cartoons, many of which had violent and misogynistic themes.

A 1983 DOJ-funded study conducted by Conservative and academic author Judith Reisman found that thousands of cartoons in Hustler, along with its competitors Playboy and Penthouse, depicted rape, botched abortions and children in sexual poses. “Chester the Molester,” a Hustler cartoon feature film about a pedophile, was denounced by many critics, but Mr. Flynt defended it as a social satire of debauchery.

The value of the Flynt Empire was murky. He was private and was not required to disclose his finances. Mr Flynt gave estimates as high as $ 700 million, but financial experts said his fortune varied widely over time depending on economic conditions, and the 2015 consensus put his net worth at around $ 400 million. of dollars.

Mr. Flynt, who once entered federal court wearing a diaper made of an American flag, regularly thrown himself into the spotlight with drumbeats – ridiculing conservative religious leaders, chronicling politicians’ sexual peccadilloes, sparking anger and fun with parodies of patriotism and attacking the dignity of cultural icons.

In 1975, a year after its publication, Hustler gained international attention with the publication of nude photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, taken by a paparazzo while sunbathing on a beach in the Aegean Sea. Mr. Flynt bought the photos for $ 18,000 and quickly sold a million copies of the issue featuring them.

Mr. Flynt was first prosecuted in 1976 for obscenity and organized crime for selling obscene material in Cincinnati. Charles Keating, later convicted in a notorious savings and loan scandal, had founded Citizens for Decent Literature and sparked public outrage over the case. Mr. Flynt lost on both counts and was sentenced to seven to 25 years. But he only served a six-day sentence, and the conviction was overturned for prosecution misconduct and judicial bias. The case highlighted Cincinnati as a bastion of conservatism and Mr. Flynt as a questionable champion of free speech.

After being approached in 1977 by evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, President Jimmy Carter’s sister, Mr. Flynt announced that he had become a born again Christian, claiming he had a vision of God as he he was in flight in his jet with Mrs. Stapleton. He banned smoking at Hustler’s, gave staff a raise, began a carrot juice diet, and vowed to “fight for God.” But he soon resumed his adventures and his vices, calling himself an atheist.

In 1978, while on trial in Lawrenceville, Georgia, for obscenity, he was shot near the courthouse by a sniper who ran away. Mr. Flynt’s legs were permanently paralyzed and he spent the rest of his life using a gold-plated wheelchair. The assailant, Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who opposed Hustler’s portrayal of interracial couples, was captured in 1980. He was never tried for shooting Mr. Flynt, but confessed to a series of murders and was executed in Missouri in 2013.

Later, many obscenity cases were brought against Mr. Flynt. He lost a few for reasons of jurisdiction or confidentiality. But most sank into the Supreme Court’s restrictive 1973 test defining obscenity as itchy, patently offensive material, devoid of scientific, literary, artistic, political or social value, and taken as a whole in violation of “standards. community ‘subjective – which meant he could play in Times Square, but not Cincinnati around 1976.

Mr. Flynt’s interpretation was simpler. “If the First Amendment protects a bastard like me,” he said, “then he will protect you all. Because I am the worst.

Larry Claxton Flynt Jr. was born in Lakeville, Ky., On November 1, 1942, the eldest of three children to Larry Claxton Flynt, a tenant farmer, and Edith (Arnett) Flynt. After her sister, Judy, died of leukemia in 1951, the family fell apart. Her parents divorced. Larry lived with his mother; her brother, Jimmy, lived with a grandmother.

At age 15, Larry dropped out of school in Salyersville, Ky., And with a fake birth certificate, he joined the military. After his release he smuggled alcohol and in 1960 he joined the Navy and became a radar operator.

Released in 1964, he bought a bar in Dayton, Ohio from his mother for $ 1,800 and used the profits to buy two more bars, then opened his first Hustler Club, featuring nude hostess dancers.

In the late 1960s, he opened Hustler strip clubs in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, and Cincinnati. To promote his businesses, he created a newsletter featuring nude women. In 1974 it became Hustler magazine.

Playboy, Penthouse, and other competitors took to newsstands, and Hustler struggled in his first year, in part because distributors and wholesalers were reluctant to handle it. But Ms Onassis’ photos made Hustler infamous overnight and made Mr Flynt a millionaire.

He got married five times. Her first three marriages all ended in divorce. In 1976 he married Althea Leasure, who had helped start his businesses. She contracted AIDS and drowned in 1987 in a bathtub. In 1998, he married Elizabeth Berrios. He had five children. One, Lisa Flynt, died in a car accident in 2014.

In addition to his wife and brother, he is survived by his other children – TJ Flynt, Theresa Flynt, Tonya Flynt-Vega and Larry Flynt Jr. – and many grandchildren.

Mr. Flynt published a memoir, “An Unseemly Man: My Life as a Pornographer, Pundit, and Social Outcast” (written with Kenneth Ross), in 1996. It was the subject of a documentary directed by Joan Brooker- Marks, “Larry Flynt: The Right to Be Left Alone”, in 2007. With David Eisenbach, he wrote, “One Nation Under Sex” (2011), about past presidents. After Mr Falwell died in 2007, Mr Flynt said that despite their differences, they had become friends. “I have always appreciated his sincerity,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.”

Alex Traub and Isabella Paoletto contributed reporting.