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Larry Flynt, Founder of Hustler Magazine, Dies at 78

Ellise Shafer
·3 min read
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Larry Flynt, the controversial founder of Hustler magazine and president of Larry Flynt publications, has died. He was 78.

His brother Jimmy Flynt confirmed his death on Wednesday in Los Angeles to the Washington Post.

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Flynt was a notable figure in the porn industry for nearly 50 years, launching Hustler magazine in 1974 and later expanding to three television channels known as Hustler TV. Flynt was also known for his many legal battles involving adult entertainment and the First Amendment, which were portrayed in Milos Forman’s 1996 Oscar-nominated film “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” in which Woody Harrelson played Flynt and Flynt himself guest-starred as a judge.

Born on Nov. 1, 1942 in Lakeville, Ky., Flynt grew up in poverty and eventually joined the United States Army at the age of 15 using a counterfeit birth certificate. After being honorably discharged, Flynt worked at the Inland Manufacturing Company for a few months and then as a bootlegger before enlisting in the Navy in 1960. After he was once again honorably discharged in 1964, Flynt entered into the bar business and eventually opened Hustler Clubs all around Ohio.

In 1972, Flynt started the Hustler Newsletter, which was a two-page publication about his clubs. It became so popular that Flynt expanded it, and it eventually became Hustler magazine, which went several steps further than Playboy, with sexually explicit nude photos as well as paparazzi pictures of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

During Hustler’s early years, the publication faced many legal battles over obscenity laws. In March 1978, while Flynt was leaving a court hearing in Georgia, he was shot on the sidewalk by a gunman, who was later revealed to be serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin. The shooting left Flynt partially paralyzed from the waist down, with permanent spinal cord damage, and Flynt used a gold-plated, velvet-lined wheelchair from then on. Franklin didn’t confess to the attempted murder until years later, and said his reasoning was that an interracial photoshoot in Hustler that had enraged him. Franklin was eventually sentenced to death, but Flynt famously expressed his opposition to the death penalty in 2013 to no avail.

Flynt was involved in several other obscenity cases, including Hustler Magazine v. Falwell in 1988, which went to the Supreme Court, which ultimately sided with Flynt. Flynt was also charged with obscenity-related offenses in 1998 as a result of a sting operation.

The Ohio Hustler bars later spawned the Hustler Hollywood sex shop, a casino, and numerous other magazines and clubs.

Flynt also faced controversy in his personal life. On June 27, 1987, Flynt’s fourth wife, Althea Leasure, was found dead in the bathtub of their Bel Air mansion. Authorities ruled the death an accidental drowning. In 1998, Flynt married his former nurse, Elizabeth Berrios. That same year, Flynt’s daughter, Tonya Flynt-Vega, accused him of molesting her as a child in her book, “Hustled.” Flynt denied the claims.

Flynt also tried his hand at politics, running for president briefly in 1984 and for Governor of California in a 2003 recall election. He was vocal against Donald Trump and even offered a $10 million reward in 2017 to anyone with evidence that could lead to his impeachment.

Flynt is survived by his fifth wife, Berrios, and several children. He was pre-deceased by his daughter, Lisa Flynt-Fugate, who died in 2014.

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