Larry Flynt (1942)
It was on this date, November 1, 1942, that magazine publisher Larry Claxton Flynt was born in Salyersville, Kentucky. The publisher of around twenty sex magazines, Larry Flynt is known equally well for the most famous of them, the ground-breaking Hustler, and for his brushes with obscenity law.
Flynt grew up poor in Magoffin County, Kentucky. His mother divorced his alcoholic father when Flynt was 10. He ran away to serve in the Navy and, after leaving in 1964, opened his first strip club in Dayton, Ohio. Ten years later he founded Hustler magazine, which in its November 1974 issue was the first men’s magazine to show “pink-shots,” or photos including female labia. His was, as he put it, pornography for the working man, deliberately cruder than Playboy.
Charles H. Keating Jr. took Flynt to court for obscenity in 1976: Flynt was convicted, but the sentence was overturned on a technicality. A 1983 ad parody in Hustler brought Flynt face-to-face with evangelist Jerry Falwell (d.2007). Flynt not only won, but the decision clarified that public figures cannot recover damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” based on satires.
Several other lawsuits on obscenity and defamation grounds were won and lost over the years, but Flynt consistently claimed that the First Amendment protected him. The 1996 biographical film of Flynt’s life (The People vs. Larry Flynt) put it this way, as actor Woody Harrelson, portraying Flynt, says, “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you. ‘Cause I’m the worst.” As Flynt put it in an E! Online interview, “The church has had its hand on our crotch for 2,000 years, and the government is seemingly moving into that direction. They feel that if they can control your pleasure centers, they can control you.”
Flynt married his fourth wife, Althea, in 1976. The marriage lasted until her death in 1987 – of drowning in a bathtub, possibly as the result of a drug overdose. On 6 March 1978, Flynt and his lawyer Gene Reeves Jr. were shot outside a courthouse during an obscenity trial in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Flynt has since been paralyzed from the waist down. It was claimed that evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton (sister of President Jimmy Carter), converted him in 1977, but after that attack, Flynt renounced Christianity.
On a program called “Talk Today” (Nov 9, 2000), Flynt responded to a caller who told him God would be his judge, “Well, I’m a total non-believer so this doesn’t bother me at all.” Later on, a caller reminded him that he had been a born again-Christian. Flynt replied,
I got over that. We’re raised in a God culture society. This is all programmed into a child’s mind at a very early age. People who are able to get deprogrammed are the more fortunate ones. People think you have to have God in your life to be happy. I know a lot of atheists who are compassionate, happy people. We need to live and let live in this world. Don’t get me wrong; if religion helps you get through the day, fine. But don’t impose your religious beliefs on other people.
In the epilogue to his 1996 autobiography, An Unseemly Man: My Life as a Pornographer, Pundit, and Social Outcast, Flynt says,
I have left my religious conversion behind and settled into a comfortable state of atheism. I have come to think that religion has caused more harm than any other idea since the beginning of time. The Jerry Falwells of this world are living proof of the hypocrisy that permeates organized religion in America and around the world.
Originally published November 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.