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 — were memorialized in the 1996 film The People Versus Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson. Flynt’s death was first reported by TMZ and his brother Jimmy Flynt confirmed the news to The Washington Post. A cause of death has not been revealed.
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.”
Always brash and opinionated, in his later years, he traveled most places in a gold-plated wheelchair. 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.’ “