Larry Flynt, 'Hustler' magazine founder, dies at 78

Doha Madani and Diana Dasrath
Larry Flynt Announces His Official Run For California Governor's Recall Election at LFP Headquarters in Los Angeles, August 4, 2003.
Steve Grayson | WireImage | Getty Images

Larry Flynt, the controversial publisher who founded "Hustler" magazine, has died at the age of 78.

His daughter Theresa Flynt confirmed to NBC News that she was with her father, alongside his wife, when he died Wednesday morning at Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.

Flynt launched "Hustler" in the 1970s, a print extension of his adult club of the same name that featured nude hostesses. As the pornographic publication grew in popularity, Flynt became the target of critics who called the magazine obscene.

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The porn magnate's ensuing legal battles over the content of his magazine are now considered landmark free speech cases. Flynt fiercely defended his right to publish amid prosecution and threats against his life.

Flynt was shot exiting the Gwinnett County Courthouse in Georgia in 1978, where he was facing trial for distributing obscene materials. The attack left Flynt paralyzed from the waist down, and the judge declared a mistrial.

Joseph Paul Franklin, a serial killer and self-proclaimed white supremacist, claimed he shot Flynt and attorney Gene Reeves, though a shooter was never identified or convicted.

Rev. Jerry Falwell sued Flynt in 1983 after Hustler published a satirical ad claiming Falwell had a drunken incestuous relationship with his mother in an outhouse. The parody was modeled after a real ad campaign for Campari, which included interviews with celebrities.

In what is considered a historic First Amendment case, Flynt appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and won. The justices agreed in a unanimous ruling that parodies of public figures are considered protected forms of speech and that Falwell could not seek damages for emotional distress.

"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.

Flynt's corporate empire, consisting of Larry Flynt Publications and Flynt Management Group, had humble roots. In the 1960s he bought out a bar in Dayton, Ohio, where his mother worked and expanded it into a chain of adult clubs he called Hustler.

"Hustler" magazine initially began as a newsletter for his clubs, but grew in popularity and scope into a rival for Playboy magazine. Flynt ascended to national recognition, however, after publishing nude photos of former first lady Jacqueline Onassis taken by the paparazzi.

His life has been the subject of films and books, including the 1996 biopic "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Woody Harrelson was nominated for a 1997 Academy Award for his portrayal of Flynt in the film.