Larry Flynt, porn publisher and free speech activist, dies at 78

LOS ANGELES -- Porn purveyor Larry Flynt, who built Hustler magazine into an adult entertainment empire while championing First Amendment rights, died Wednesday. He was 78.

Flynt had been in frail health and a family statement says he died "from the recent onset of a sudden illness."

The family said Flynt died in his sleep at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, with his wife Liz and daughter Theresa by his side.

From his beginnings as an Ohio strip club owner to his reign as founder of one of the most explicit adult-oriented magazines, Larry Claxton Flynt Jr. constantly challenged the establishment and became a target for the religious right and feminist groups.

Flynt scored a surprising U.S. Supreme Court victory over the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who had sued him for libel after a 1983 Hustler alcohol ad suggested Falwell had lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse.

Flynt's company produced not only Hustler but other niche publications. He owned a video production company, various websites, two Los Angeles-area casinos and a chain of Hustler boutiques. He also licensed the Hustler name to independently owned strip clubs.

Larry Flynt visits Fresno in 2018
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Fans visited Hustler Hollywood in Northeast Fresno to meet with the man who created the controversial adult store.

His publishing and financial successes were offset in equal measure by controversies and tragedies.

Shot by a sniper in 1978, Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down and used a wheelchair the rest of his life. He fought battles with drug and alcohol addiction, and his fourth wife died of a heroin overdose.

His daughter, Lisa Flynt-Fugate, died in a 2014 car crash in Ohio at age 47.

With a fortune estimated at more than $100 million, Flynt spent his later years in the political arena. When Gov. Gray Davis was recalled by California voters in 2003, Flynt was among 135 candidates who ran to replace him. He called himself "a smut peddler who cares" and gathered more than 15,000 votes.

A self-described progressive, Flynt was no fan of former President Donald Trump. Before the 2016 election, he offered up to $1 million for video or audio recordings of Trump engaging in illegal or "sexually demeaning or derogatory" activity.

In 2017, Flynt offered a $10 million reward for evidence that would lead to Trump's impeachment, and in 2019, Larry Flynt Publications sent a Christmas card to some Republican congressional members that showed Trump lying dead in a pool of blood, with the killer saying: "I just shot Donald Trump on Fifth Avenue and no one arrested me" - a reference to Trump's boast that he could commit such a killing and wouldn't lose votes.

Flynt's life was depicted in the acclaimed 1996 film "The People vs. Larry Flynt," which brought Oscar nominations for director Milos Forman and Woody Harrelson, who played Flynt.
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