Larry Flynt, 'Hustler' Founder and First Amendment Activist, Dead at 78
Larry Flynt, the publisher of the sexually explicit Hustler magazine whose legal battles turned him into a flamboyant crusader for free speech rights, has died at 78. Flynt’s famed legal battles — which he took to the Supreme Court — are memorialized in the 1996 film The People Versus Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson. Flynt’s death was first reported by TMZ and confirmed by The Washington Post.
Flynt was a Navy veteran who built a small empire of nude adult clubs in the late 1960s. He transformed a newsletter about the clubs into Hustler magazine in 1974, publishing adult entertainment that critics frequently lambasted as obscene and degrading to women. The magazine once published a photo illustration of a nude woman being passed through a meat grinder. The feminist Gloria Steinem famously described Flynt as “a violent, sadistic pornographer.”
Hustler became a household name overnight after publishing paparazzi photos of a nude, sunbathing former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1975. While fighting obscenity charges in a case in Georgia in 1978, Flynt was shot through the spine and paralyzed by a gunman who was allegedly outraged over an inter-racial photo shoot in the magazine. Flynt used a wheelchair thereafter.
Flynt called himself a “smut peddler” and took his in-your-face attitude to the court. In 1983 he was indicted for desecrating the flag after wearing the stars and stripes as a diaper in an appearance in federal court. The most famous of Flynt’s legal battles did not involve nudity, rather a parody piece about the Reverend Jerry Falwell that suggested the evangelist lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse. Falwell sued for emotional distress. In 1988 the Supreme Court ruled in Flynt’s favor, establishing an important free-speech precedent.
In his later years Flynt was active in politics, famous for offering bounties for compromising information about politicians. During the Bill Clinton impeachment, Flynt offered $1 million for information about infidelity by high ranking GOP members of Congress. The effort was a success, and spurred the resignation of Speaker-designate Bob Livingston from his leadership post and from Congress. Livingston reportedly told colleagues: “I very much regret having to tell you that I’ve been Flynted!” In 2017, Flynt offered $10 million for “smoking gun” information that would lead to the impeachment of Donald Trump.
In a rare foray into politics, Flynt ran for governor of California in the chaotic recall election of 2003. He called himself the “smut peddler who cares” and finished in seventh place.
The cause of death has not been revealed.
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