Larry Flynt dead at 78: Controversial publisher who founded Hustler has died of heart failure

Larry Flynt, the porn publisher behind Hustler magazine, has died at the age of 78.

He died on Wednesday morning of heart failure, TMZ said. 

His brother Jimmy Flynt confirmed the death but did not cite a specific cause. 

Flynt, born in Kentucky, had been in a wheelchair since 1978, when white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin attempted to kill him as he left court in Georgia. 

Franklin shot him and left him paralyzed, in retaliation for Hustler publishing images of interracial sex.

A self-described ‘smut-peddler’ who transformed his Mid West strip clubs into the $100 million Hustler empire, Flynt was passionate about personal freedoms. 

His life was made into a 1996 film, The People vs Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton and Courtney Love, which chronicled his rise to fame and his clashes with religious institutions and the law. 

Larry Flynt, pictured in March 2009, died on Wednesday morning of heart failure

Flynt is seen in November 2004, celebrating his 62nd birthday at The Hustler Club in Paris

Flynt is seen in November 2004, celebrating his 62nd birthday at The Hustler Club in Paris

Flynt is seen in November 2004, celebrating his 62nd birthday at The Hustler Club in Paris

Flynt and his fifth wife, Elizabeth Berrios, are pictured at the Oxford Union in February 2014

Flynt and his fifth wife, Elizabeth Berrios, are pictured at the Oxford Union in February 2014

Flynt and his fifth wife, Elizabeth Berrios, are pictured at the Oxford Union in February 2014

Flynt was married five times, and had five children – his daughter Lisa Flynt-Fugate died in a car crash in Ohio in October 2014, at the age of 47.

Woody Harrelson in the 1996 film

Woody Harrelson in the 1996 film

Woody Harrelson in the 1996 film

He married Elizabeth Berrios, his former nurse, in 1998.

In 2013 he told The Hollywood Reporter he was estranged from four of his five children, because he claimed they just wanted his money and were not prepared to show an interest in running his business.

It was unclear if they had reconciled at the time of his death. 

Flynt told the magazine that he maintains a special place in his heart for his fourth wife Althea, who was bisexual and died of AIDS in 1987.

‘Althea was the love of my life,’ said Flynt. 

The pair met when the 17-year-old runaway started dancing in one of his clubs. 

They married in 1976 and remained married until her death in 1987. 

In the 1996 film, Althea was played by Courtney Love. 

Flynt is pictured at home in Los Angeles in March 1979

Flynt is pictured at home in Los Angeles in March 1979

Flynt is pictured at home in Los Angeles in March 1979 

Flynt opened the first Hustler Club in Ohio in the 1960s and created an empire

Flynt opened the first Hustler Club in Ohio in the 1960s and created an empire

Flynt opened the first Hustler Club in Ohio in the 1960s and created an empire

Flynt was born into poverty in Magoffin County, Kentucky – the oldest of three children born to a sharecropper and a housewife.

At 15 he joined the army, having forged his birth certificate.

He was honorably discharged, and became for a brief time a bootlegger before enlisting in the navy in July 1960. 

Discharged at the age of 22, Flynt took $1,800 from his savings and bought his mother’s bar in Dayton, Ohio. With the profits he launched several more, and then the Hustler Club, featuring nude hostess dancers. 

When recession pushed his string of Ohio-based strip clubs toward bankruptcy in 1974, Flynt turned what had been a black-and-white newsletter into the most sexually explicit magazine in the United States. 

The publication’s August 1975 issue of nude photos of Jackie Kennedy Onassis brought attention and dramatically increased sales for Hustler.

In 1977 he briefly declared himself a born-again Christian, after befriending evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, sister of President Jimmy Carter. 

He toned down Hustler’s content, but then returned to normal operations and announced he was an atheist. 

Larry Flynt is pictured at home with Althea in March 1979. She died in 1987

Larry Flynt is pictured at home with Althea in March 1979. She died in 1987

Larry Flynt is pictured at home with Althea in March 1979. She died in 1987

Harrelson and Love in the film The People vs Larry Flynt

Harrelson and Love in the film The People vs Larry Flynt

Harrelson and Love in the film The People vs Larry Flynt

In the late ’80s, televangelist Jerry Falwell sued Flynt for libel and the emotional distress caused by a Hustler cartoon that implied Falwell’s first sexual encounter was with his mother. He won in a lower court.

But on February 24, 1988, the Supreme Court deemed that if a public figure could receive damages for distress, any kind of satire or parody would be impossible. 

The case, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, is now taught in law schools.

Flynt also made a political run himself.

In 1983 he ran for president as a Republican in a long-shot bid, running on a platform of fighting sexual repression.

‘I want to keep Big Brother out of your bedroom,’ he said at the time.

‘If the government can control the single strongest drive you have, they can control anything, and that’s the road to fascism.’

Asked, during his campaign launch event, what indication he is receiving that the public is taking his candidacy seriously, Flynt said: ‘We get letters saying ‘I haven’t voted in five years, but you’ve given me an excuse to now.’ People know I’m honest, they know I’ve got nothing to hide.’

Flynt in 2014 with the cover of his magazine, on its 40th anniversary

Flynt in 2014 with the cover of his magazine, on its 40th anniversary

Flynt in 2014 with the cover of his magazine, on its 40th anniversary

Woody Harrelson, who played Flynt in the 1996 film of his life

Woody Harrelson, who played Flynt in the 1996 film of his life

Woody Harrelson, who played Flynt in the 1996 film of his life

He opposed the death penalty, and insisted that he did not want Franklin put to death. 

He favored same-sex marriage. He spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A private foundation he created contributes to research in spinal cord injuries, child abuse and youth violence. 

During Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, he paid for an advertisement in The Washington Post to offer to $1 million for proof that a member of Congress or other senior government official was enmeshed in an adulterous affair, in a bid to show the hypocrisy of Clinton’s Republican adversaries. 

In October 2016, he offered $1 million reward for ‘scandalous’ material that would see Trump impeached.

He sought ‘verifiable video footage or audio recordings for use prior to the November 8 election clearly showing Donald Trump engaging in illegal activity or acting in a sexually demeaning or derogatory manner.’ 

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