Larry Flynt has died. Having involved himself in issues ranging from America’s most lurid sexual desires, to its most high-minded liberal ideals, Flynt was a dedicated pornographer, provocateur, and a self-styled advocate for free speech. His work as the founder of Hustler magazine brought him from the world of Midwest nightclubs, to the brink of death, and into the highest courts in the land, almost always with an eye on how to raise his profile (and more money) from the dedicated mining of outrage and lust. He died today at the age of 78. Heart failure has been reported as the cause of death.
Born in Kentucky in the 1940s, Flynt involved himself in the business of vice early and often, working as a bootlegger before ultimately opening a series of nudity-focused Hustler nightclubs throughout Ohio. Flynt moved from club ownership to publishing in the 1970s, attempting to undercut Playboy and its ilk by offering far more hardcore imagery in his new magazine, often focused on the degradation of women. Flynt put Hustler on the map in 1975 with the purchase and publication of nude photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, shot by paparazzi while she was on vacation—becoming a millionaire basically overnight due to the increased attention and sales the photos brought.
What followed was a long career of deliberate provocation, reaching its potential apex in 1978, when Flynt was shot by a man who later revealed he’d been outraged by an interracial photo shoot in Hustler. Partially paralyzed, Flynt continued to run his publishing empire, engaging in numerous legal battles with the likes of Jerry Falwell and other anti-pornography crusaders. Flynt also became increasingly engaged in politics, throwing support behind left-leaning figures like Bill Clinton, and offering cash rewards for stories of conservative leaders caught in sexually compromising positions.
Flynt, and the publishing empire he created, remain controversial to this day. He was sued by a secretary for sexual harassment in the mid-2000s, and was accused by one of his daughters, Tonya Flynt-Vega, of sexually abusing her as a child. (Flynt denied the charges.) He is survived by four children and his wife, Elizabeth Berrios, who he was married to from 1998 until his death early this morning.