The Flames Burn Eternal for the Hero of Free Speech

larry flynt

The “self proclaimed smut peddler” and champion for First Amendment rights died after years of “failing health” on February 10, 2021. Larry Flynt, a hero in a “gold-plated, velvet-lined wheelchair”, took a bullet for the very rights our country is founded on: free speech. The right to say it or print it, even if it insults another’s sensibilities. 

“Larry Flynt, founder of Hustler magazine and self-proclaimed “smut peddler who cares”, has died aged 78.”

“The publication, which put out its first issue in 1974, stoked outrage while setting new boundaries for bad taste, libidinous images and newsstand embargos.”

He died not far from the headquarters of Hustler Magazine at 8484 Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills, where after having owned the building since 1994, sold it in 2013, and then remained a tenant.

“I’m delighted to announce this transaction,” said Flynt in a news release. “I bought the building in 1994 for less than $19 million, so we’ve been able to unlock significant equity which we can now put to much better use in other ventures and achieve greater returns.”

And as a landlord and a person: he was a fair and decent man. Attorney and founder of this publication, DarkMattersMag.com, Allison Margolin, whose law offices are in the same building as the Hustler headquarters has this to say about Larry Flynt:

“Larry Flynt was a political hero to my family, and he was a great person personally and professionally as far as my interactions with him as a freelance contributor for Hustler. He championed the underdog personally and professionally and put his money where his mouth was.”

“Flynt died in his sleep at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with family by his side, according to his manager.”

Larry Flynt did not start life like he ended in it: in wealth and notoriety. 

“Flynt grew up in poverty and eventually joined the United States Army at the age of 15 using a counterfeit birth certificate.” 

He was honorably discharged twice  – first from the army and then from a Navy enlistment – and after the second time found his start in the bar business in 1964, opening up Hustler Clubs throughout Ohio. 

It was at one of these nightclubs that Flynt met his fourth wife, Althea Leasure Flynt, who then became an integral part of the Hustler empire, then died sadly some years later.

“Precisely at 17, Leasure applied for a go-go dancing job at one of the Hustler nightclubs in Columbus, Ohio. It was through this that she met Larry Flynt who had threatened to fire her and only take her back when she clocked 18. But instead of carrying out his threats, Larry rather fell for Althea, citing her intelligence and childlike behavior as the attraction. The duo began a romantic relationship and later got married in 1976, on August 21.”

If there is an American Dream for risque – Larry Flynt has achieved. The Ohio sex clubs grew into a sex empire. His newsletter became Hustler Magazine. There were no holds barred. He did not feel like he needed to prove anything to anyone by being “proper”.  And he credits it to growing up poor. He started life in rural America living in poverty. 

“But he prided himself on being a self-made man who came from very humble beginnings. Larry Claxton Flynt Jr. was born in Lakeville, Kentucky on Nov. 1, 1942. His father was a sharecropper and he grew up in poverty; in his 2004 book Sex, Lies & Politics: The Naked Truth, Flynt cited his meager beginnings as an influence on his attitude toward sex. “I’m a hillbilly, and people like me come to sex without all the hang-ups imposed by the hypocritical, ‘you must maintain proper appearances’ morality of the middle class,” he wrote. “When good Christian folk tell me that sex is dirty, I say, ‘Yeah, when it’s done right.’ For me, sex has always been a way of saying, ‘I am outside the reach of your power.’ “

“Larry Flynt was a Navy veteran who built a small empire of nude adult clubs in the late 1960s. He took those strip clubs and built them into one of the world’s most successful sex-based brands, transforming 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.””

Raunch, shock, and racy were on the Hustler menu: big time. Photos ranged from a naked Jackie O, compliments of her heartless second husband, Aristotle Onassis, to the “so-called pink shots”, women with their legs spread to show the inside of their genitalia. 

“The former First Lady became known as the “Billion Dollar Bush” when photos of her sunbathing in the buff got splashed across pages of the August 1975 issue of Hustler magazine.” 

“Wildest of all, Flynt had Jackie’s second husband, the shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, to thank for the racy shots: To teach his seemingly spoiled wife a lesson, sadistic Ari hired photographers to score the images of his uninhibited missus on the Greek island of Scorpios.”

“In November 1974, four months after Hustler debuted, the magazine published its first so-called “pink shots” — that is, photographs of women with their legs spread to reveal the insides of their genitalia. The cover of that issue promised “down to earth sexy girls.” Truth in advertising aside, newsstands banned the magazine due to its explicit content but Flynt, clearly in the pink, fought his first amendment fight and won.”

“A 2013 Hollywood Reporter profile of Flynt described Hustler as targeting a “more blue-color audience than Playboy,” which had started in 1953. Hustler became famous for its graphic and controversial images including rape and mutilation.”

The shock value of one photo – an interracial couple was so enraging for one unhinged individual, who tuned out to serial killer, Joseph Paul Franklin, that it gave him no choice but to try to silence Flynt through an assassination attempt 1978 which left Flynt paralyzed from the waist down. Franklin was eventually sentenced to death for the shooting for which Flynt “famously” expressed his opposition for the death penalty. But to no avail.

“While fighting obscenity charges in a case in Gwinnett County, a suburb of 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 ended up filing a legal motion with the American Civil Liberties Union requesting to stop Franklin’s execution, telling CNN that he was against the death penalty. “The government has no business at all being in the business of killing people,” he said.”

Clearly, Larry Flynt was no stranger to the court system. There is only so much smut the world can take before someone says it’s not lawful to plaster it across the pages of a magazine and sell it to hundreds of thousands of people for their viewing pleasure, retch potential, and wealth building properties.  Better to sue than to disengage and live and let live and let people say what they want to say regardless of how foul it may sound. So he became a crusader for the very thing our country is founded on: the freedom to plaster smut across the pages of magazines and build an empire doing it. He became a crusader for the First Amendment when one case went all the way to the Supreme Court, Hustler Magazine v Falwell, in 1988.  

“One lawsuit in particular saw Flynt sued for a sexual parody cartoon of televangelist Jerry Falwell that appeared in Hustler in 1983.”

“The cartoon, a fake advert, showed Mr Falwell saying his first sexual encounter had been with his mother in an outhouse.”

“Mr Falwell sued Flynt for $50m (£36m) for libel and won in a lower court, but the case went up to the US Supreme Court.”

“Flynt then won the case with a unanimous 8-0 verdict, which reinforced free speech rights and protections for satire in the US.”

Throughout these battles and throughout Larry Flynt’s paralysis his wife, Althea Flynt, stood by until her death on June 27,1987 when she died in her bathtub at the home they lived in. She was 33 years old and they had been married for 11 years. 

“Althea not only ran her husband’s Hustler empire successfully, but she also took care of the porn king who became confined to the house and on a wheelchair following a gunshot wound in 1978 that left him paralyzed and in intermittent excruciating pains.”

But Althea was not without her own troubles. She suffered from drug addiction and HIV. She had AIDS and she knew she was dying. They had considered cryonics, so that they could be frozen until there was a cure for AIDS.  

“Flynt’s downward movement to the grave began in the early 1980s when she delved into substance abuse and addiction. This was after she started taking a variety of pain relievers her husband used to sooth his bullet injury. The hard drugs included morphine, cocaine, marijuana, methadone, and so on.”

“By 1983, Althea was diagnosed with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). According to the Hustler co-publisher, she contracted the incurable disease through a blood transfusion she received during surgery, precisely a hysterectomy, insisting that she never used second-hand needles for drugs.”

“He says that when his wife died, she had AIDS-related complex, ARC. He says, although ARC is not usually considered terminal, that she was dying. He says she knew she was going to die, that her physician said she would probably not live longer than a year, and that he and Althea Flynt had considered cryonics, the freezing of human bodies, so that she might be thawed sometime later when a cure was found.”

“He says the autopsy unfortunately rendered cryonics impossible.” 

Her death turned out to be an overdose which caused her to pass out in the tub. The timing of their marriage in 1976 gave her the distinction of being the only one of his five wives to join him in his “rise to fame”. 

“Following investigations including pathological and autopsical examinations, reports concluded that Althea had a prescription drug overdose which caused her to pass out in the tub. Being unconscious, she eventually drowned.”

If x-rated can be a glass ceiling to break then Larry Flynt is a hero for the cause in the name of free speech. “His famous legal battles have been memorialized” 1996 film The People Versus Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson.”

“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.” 

You may not like him but you have to respect him is the way I see it. RIP Larry Flynt.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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