Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adventures of Larry Flynt

Nothing Too Tastless for Hustler

Larry's Brother Jimmy Flynt
Larry's Brother Jimmy Flynt

Flynt, permanently crippled and confined to a wheelchair, lived for many years in unimaginable pain. Constantly searching for a drug that would give him some relief, he became addicted and frequently overdosed. His wife Althea also became addicted, unable to resist the lure of readily available legal and illegal narcotics. Flynt lived in a haze of pain and drugs, but with the help of his lifelong partner, his younger brother Jimmy, he continued to publish Hustler, which became increasingly audacious, breaking new ground in the area of men's magazines. At various times, Hustler published a life-size naked foldout, a photo spread of pregnant women engaged in lesbian sex, photos of a hermaphrodite, and a scratch'n'sniff centerfold. Nothing was too tasteless for Hustler. A cartoon in the magazine once used First Lady Betty Ford's mastectomy as the butt of a joke. Castration, dismemberment, scatology and bestiality were commonly represented in the pages of the magazine.

Flynt's physical suffering seemed to fuel his fervor for First Amendment rights. In his autobiography, Flynt makes the distinction between pornography and obscenity. Photographs that are sexual in nature are not automatically obscene, he argues, and those who say so in fact fear and revile sex.

Kathy Keeton with Guccione
Kathy Keeton with Guccione

Beginning in 1983, Flynt was hauled into court on several occasions, and in many instances he managed to turn the cases into a First Amendment tests through his courtroom antics. A case that had been dogging him since 1976 came to a head in 1983, taking Flynt all the way to the Supreme Court. Kathy Keeton, the girlfriend of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, sued Flynt for printing a cartoon suggesting that she had contracted a venereal disease from Guccione. Guccione filed a separate suit for another Hustler cartoon that portrayed him having sex with another man. Guccione filed his case in Ohio and won a $39.6 million judgment against Hustler, which was later overturned on appeal. Keeton filed her case in New Hampshire, but the state dismissed her case, saying they had no jurisdiction in the matter, so she appealed to the Supreme Court. Flynt emerged from his "pain-filled, reclusive state of mind" and decided to represent himself in the highest court in the land.

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