Larry Flynt was a publisher, businessman and promoter who was one of the most notorious producers of pornography, and rose to fame and great wealth from his raunchy Hustler magazine. He built a $100 million business empire based on magazines, private clubs, casinos, sex-toy stores, videos, and three pornographic television channels. He was also a brave man who was repeatedly threatened with death, sued by individuals and law enforcement agencies, prosecuted by pubic officials, jailed for contempt, and gagged for obscene outbursts in court. In 1978, when he was 36 years old, he was shot by a serial killer and was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. On Feb. 10, 2021, he died of heart failure at age 78, after breaking just about every known rule for healthful living.
Flynt was born in 1942, during World War II, and was brought up in the hills of Magoffin County, Kentucky, which was known as “the poorest county in the nation during the Great Depression.” His father was an alcoholic sharecropper and his mother was a teenager. His parents divorced when he was 10 and he was raised by his mother in Indiana for two years, then returned to Magoffin County to live with his father because he hated his mother’s new boyfriend. He dropped out of school at age 15 and falsified his birth certificate to be accepted into the army. He was dropped by the army seven months later and joined the navy as a radar operator. He was honorably discharged from the navy at age 22.
From Poverty to Great Wealth
After leaving the navy, he went to live with his mother and work in a bar she owned. At age 23, he paid his mother $1,800 to buy her “Keewee Bar” in Dayton, Ohio. He took amphetamines so he would be able to stay awake so he could work day and night, and he often had to use his own fists to break up fights between drunken customers. Within a year, he was earning more than $1000 a week and bought two more bars. Next he opened his first “Hustler Club,” which featured naked female dancers. By 1968, he had opened Hustler Clubs in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Toledo, and was earning from each of them between $260,000 and $520,000 a year.
In 1972, when he was 30, he decided to advertise his clubs with a two-page newsletter and in just a few months he expanded it to 32 pages. However, the U.S. economy was in recession and he was losing money on his Hustler Clubs. He decided to convert his popular Hustler Club newsletter into a national magazine filled with pictures of naked women. Many people were offended by his pictures, but the magazine quickly achieved a circulation exceeding one million issues and peaked at three million issues, and he was able to pay his back taxes and buy a luxurious mansion. In 1988, at age 46, he started a successful company that produced pornographic movies and in 2000, at age 58, he opened the Hustler Casino in Los Angeles.
Flynt was involved in numerous legal battles over regulation of pornography and free speech. In 1978, he and his lawyer were shot outside a courthouse in Georgia, and Flynt was left with permanent spinal cord damage that paralyzed him and kept him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
• Flynt was sued by Jerry Falwell in 1983 for suggesting that Falwell had drunken sex with his mother. He won that case because he presented the story as satire, not fact.
• Flynt was convicted of obscenity and organized crime in 1976 and sentenced to seven to 25 years, but the case was dismissed on appeal.
• He was sued successfully for defamation in 1976 by Kathy Keeton, the girlfriend of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. During the lawsuit, he reportedly shouted obscenities and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger had him arrested for contempt of court, but the charge was later dismissed.
• Flynt was charged and pleaded guilty in 1988 to the sale of sex videos to under-age children.
Active in Many Causes
In addition to his battles over free speech, Flynt was a vocal supporter of many causes. He opposed the death penalty and supported same-sex marriage, research on spinal cord injuries, and protection for victims of child abuse or youth violence. He temporarily became a born-again Christian in 1977 and then returned to being an atheist. He ran for U.S. president as a Republican in 1984, but became a Democrat in 1998 to support President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings. He offered a million dollar reward for anyone who could prove that a member of Congress was having an affair. He opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Love of His Life
Flynt was notoriously promiscuous, and two of his four children were born outside of his five marriages. The love of his life was his fourth wife, Althea Leasure. At age 33, he hired her as a 17-year old, bisexual go-go dancer at his clubs and married her a year later. She was his companion, lover, caretaker after he became a paraplegic, and a significant contributor of outlandish ideas for publication in his magazines.
Leasure had an upbringing even more bizarre than Flynt’s. She was placed in an orphanage at age eight because her father killed her mother, her grandfather and her mother’s best friend and then himself. She said that she was abused at the orphanage and ran away and found work at Larry Flynt’s club. When Flynt became a religious Christian, Leasure almost single handedly ran the Hustler operation. After he was shot in 1978, he abandoned his religious conversion and spent the next three years in his bedroom treating his paralysis and pain with drugs including methadone, marijuana, cocaine, sleeping pills, morphine, and Dilaudid.
Leasure continued to run the magazine empire, but had to retreat to her bedroom as she became progressively weaker from AIDS-related complex and excessive drinking and smoking. In 1987, she died in the bathtub at their mansion in Bel Air, California. Flynt told reporters that she had AIDS and knew that she was going to die prematurely, and she died from accidental drowning when she fell asleep in the tub. He said, “If she planned to commit suicide, she would have left me a note.”
Heart Failure Can be Caused by Inactivity
On February 10, 2021, Larry Flynt died at age 78 from heart failure, and it is surprising that he lived as long as he did. He drank and smoked excessively, ate an unhealthful pro-inflammatory diet, was paralyzed at age 36 so he couldn’t use his legs to exercise, and took medication for his manic depression and his chronic pain. You can die of heart failure just from spending too much time lying in bed. When you become inactive, you lose your skeletal muscles at an alarming rate, and losing skeletal muscle causes loss of heart muscle until your heart can become too weak to pump blood to your brain and you die from heart failure.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com.