The controversial founder of “Hustler” magazine and self-proclaimed champion of First Amendment rights, Larry Flynt has died at the age of 78. Flynt’s daughter, Theresa Flynt confirmed to NBC News that the publisher died on the morning of Wednesday, February 10 at Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. He was surrounded by Theresa and his wife, Elizabeth Berrios at the time of his passing. Larry’s brother, Jimmy Flynt also confirmed the news but did not cite a cause, according to the Washington Post.
Flynt founded “Hustler” in the 1970s, named after his chain of adult clubs that featured nude hostesses. As the publication grew in popularity, critics began to call the magazine obscene. All the attention eventually caused him several legal troubles, which led to landmark free speech cases and even a Hollywood movie.
The publisher vehemently defended his right to publish adult content amid mounting legal battles and threats on his life. In 1978, Flynt was shot while leaving the Gwinnett County Courthouse in Georgia, where he was facing charges of distributing obscene materials. The incident left him paralyzed from the waist down and he was forced to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Rev. Jerry Falwell sued Flynt in 1983 after a satirical ad about him was published in “Hustler.” The ad was based on a real Campari advertisement but the magazine’s satirical parody claimed Falwell had an incestuous relationship with his mother. Flynt appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court and eventually won the landmark free speech case.
“Were we to hold otherwise, there can be little doubt that political cartoonists and satirists would be subjected to damages awards without any showing that their work falsely defamed its subject,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in his opinion for the case.
A biographical film based on his tumultuous and triumphant life was released in 1996 and was critically acclaimed. It started Woody Harrelson as Flynt and was directed by Miloš Forman. The real Flynt actually made a cameo as an Ohio judge and also a jury member in the court scene of the Falwell case.
Harrelson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film also starred Courtney Love and Edward Norton.