US porn mogul Larry Flynt, best known as the publisher of Hustler magazine and a self-styled free-speech champion, died in Los Angeles on Wednesday aged 78, his spokeswoman said.
“He passed quietly in his sleep at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife Liz and daughter Theresa by his side,” Minda Gowen said in a statement, referring to the Los Angeles hospital.
Flynt died “from the recent onset of a sudden illness,” the statement added, without specifying the cause.
Various media reports have said that Flynt died of heart failure.
A self-described “smut peddler with a heart,” Flynt rose from abject poverty to run a vast adult entertainment empire.
He published the first issue of Hustler — created as a lowbrow, explicit counterpart to magazines like Playboy — in 1974.
Sales skyrocketed a year later when it ran a nude photo of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sunbathing on vacation, and Flynt raked in his first million.
His business empire grew to include dozens of magazine titles, Internet porn sites, clubs and a casino outside Los Angeles.
In 1978, Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot by a white supremacist angered by interracial sex photographs that ran in Hustler. This resulted in an on-and-off addiction to painkillers over the years.
Flynt’s empire was estimated at between US$100 million and US$500 million.
His other enduring legacy is as an outspoken free-speech advocate and the man behind Hustler v. Falwell, a 1988 case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that the US constitution protects writers and artists that mock public figures.
The case overturned a libel judgment for US$200,000 against Flynt for “emotional distress” inflicted on conservative US televangelist Jerry Falwell.
The offending article was a parody ad that ran in Hustler suggesting that Falwell’s first sexual encounter was with his mother in an outhouse.
The Supreme Court case and Flynt’s life was immortalized in The People vs. Larry Flynt, a 1996 Hollywood film directed by Milos Forman and starring Woody Harrelson.
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