Legendary ‘Hustler’ Founder Larry Flynt Passes Away at 78

The outrageous pornographer and First Amendment activist operated his publishing empire from L.A. for years

Publisher, pornographer, and political activist Larry Flynt, 78, died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles from heart failure. Flynt was born into poverty in Kentucky and ran away from home as a teenager. He opened his first bar in Ohio in 1965 and parlayed it into a chain of successful “Hustler” strip clubs. He launched Hustler magazine in 1974 as a more explicit version of Playboy, becoming notorious for his raunchy photo features, comics, and editorials.

Flynt moved his publishing empire to Los Angeles in 1978 and his flagship magazine soon reached a monthly circulation of 3,000,000. Two months after his arrival in L.A., Flynt was in Georgia fighting an obscenity charge when a sniper took aim at him and his attorney and a bullet pierced his spinal cord, paralyzing him below the waist. He spent more than 40 years in a gold-plated wheelchair.

Flynt’s empire included a film production company, a TV channel, a line of apparel, the Hustler Casino in Gardena, and a Hustler club in Beverly Hills decorated with leopard print furniture, fiber optic lighting, and nude sculptures. His companies have a reported income of $100 million annually.

His legal fights to defend his hardcore sex magazines became a fight for First Amendment rights and Flynt became respected as a defender of free speech. In 1996, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski who had dramatized the lives of Andy Kaufman, Ed Wood, and Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane, adapted his story into the Oscar-nominated biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt starring Woody Harrelson.

In 1998, shortly before the first Hooters restaurant opened in L.A., Flynt turned a former Blockbuster Video on Sunset Boulevard into an upscale porn shop. More than 500 fans lined up at the opening asking for Flynt’s autograph, one requested that the porntrepreneur sign her chest—a request to which he willingly obliged.

At the February 2012 grand reopening of the Hustler store, Los Angeles style editor Linda Immediato interviewed Flynt and, fittingly, asked him about wooing women on Valentine’s Day.

“Any man really interested in impressing a woman and keeping her interest must always consider her feelings,” Flynt said. “So many men are selfish, ‘it’s all about me,’ when it should be all about her. If he thinks of her first, she’ll respond in kind.”

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.