“If I can leave any kind of legacy at all,” said Larry Flynt, “it will be that I helped expand the parameters of free speech.” His methods may have confused many people, as Flynt was controversial, vulgar, and continually surprising. But Flynt’s fight for First Amendment rights and pushing those parameters of free speech as the creator of Hustler magazine made him an important figure who always managed to make a lot of noise.
Larry Flynt had been struggling with health issues since he was shot in 1978 by white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin. While he was paralyzed and had various other health struggles, he continued making waves over the decades. His nephew, Jimmy Flynt Jr, has said his health issues were a struggle, but that Flynt had managed to outlive many of the doctors who said he wouldn’t make it. Flynt ultimately died of heart failure on February 10, 2021, at the age of 78.
Larry Flynt certainly lived an interesting life. At 15, he ran away from home to join the Army. When he was discharged after his age was discovered, he joined the Navy. Never losing that tenacity, he began buying bars under the Hustler name. Eventually, he started a Hustler newsletter which would soon become the infamous magazine.
Larry Flynt’s business was always expanding. While Hustler was his most well-known publication, he ran others, including magazines about topics like music and video games. He also owned a video production company, casinos, websites, Hustler boutiques, and licensed the Hustler brand to strip clubs.
While the Hustler brand was financially successful, it was also extremely controversial. Larry Flynt would often argue later in life that things that were questionable in the 1960s or 1970s that he had published in Hustler were now on cable TV being seen by children. In the modern world, Jennifer Lopez poses naked on Instagram to celebrate Thanksgiving. Flynt didn’t feel the things he’d published would be considered as controversial in the future.
While Playboy was known to have jokes and stories, Hustler was known to have political cartoons that landed the company in court. The cast of Larry Flynt against Jerry Falwell illustrates where his business ventures with Hustler met with his fight for First Amendment rights. Jerry Falwell sued Hustler in 1983 for libel, after they published an alcohol ad featuring the reverend. The ad depicted Falwell losing his virginity, to his mother, in an outhouse.
Larry Flynt fought back in court and his company won the case, which had lasting repercussions for what free speech means legally. “My position is that you pay a price to live in a free society, and that price is toleration of some things you don’t like,” Larry Flynt said to the Seattle Times. “You have to tolerate the Larry Flynts of this world.”
Larry Flynt was the subject of the 1996 movie The People vs. Larry Flynt, in which Woody Harrelson played Flynt. The film was a biographical film of Flynt’s life and dramatized Flynt’s court case against Falwell. The film earned Harrelson an Oscar nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.
In 2013, Larry Flynt campaigned for Governor of California. His campaign slogan was “a smut peddler who cares”. When Donald Trump was running for president, Larry Flynt offered a million dollars for any “scandalous” audio or video of the presidential candidate. The footage could either get Trump in legal trouble or simply embarrass him to earn the million-dollar reward. Similarly, in 2017, he offered $10 million for anything that could get Trump impeached.
Larry Flynt’s life was full of business successes, personal tragedies, legal battles, and political cases. Flynt was always a complicated person, but no matter what was thought of him, his fight for free speech in all its various forms changed the world irrevocably.