- 15 Oct 17
Olaf Tyaransen was granted a rare interview with the porn baron in 2008...
Porn In The USA
Hustler magazine founder and multi-millionaire porn mogul Larry Flynt talks exclusively to Hot Press.
According to his autobiography, An Unseemly Man, the very first time that Larry Claxton Flynt ever had sexual intercourse, he perpetrated premeditated rape. Once the dirty deed was done, he murdered his victim and disposed of the body.
Although the founder and publisher of Hustler magazine has served a certain amount of jail time over the course of his wild and eventful life (mostly for contempt of court), he’s never been charged for that particular crime.
Naturally, it’s the first thing I mention when I’m introduced to the notorious 65-year-old pornographer.
“I’ll never live down that story,” Flynt sighs, speaking in a slow, raspy, Kentucky drawl. “What a lot of people don’t realise is that young boys raised on a farm mess around with the animals. It’s part of growing up, you know? I must have been eight or nine years old at the time. It’s just a silly thing. But most people move on in their life and they forget about it or they’re too embarrassed to bring it up. Me, I’m always able to talk about everything.”
So you haven’t been tempted to have sex with any chickens since?
“Nah – I like girls much better,” he guffaws.
It’s a beautifully balmy afternoon in Beverly Hills, and we’re meeting in a luxurious, glass-walled enclave on the tenth floor of the imposing Los Angeles HQ of Larry Flynt Publications (or “the skyscraper that porn built” as one local bartender put it). The panoramic view is spectacular – to the west, the modest city skyline gives way to the rolling Pacific, to the east you can see the San Gabriel Mountains, high above Pasadena.
While the bulk of Flynt’s vast personal fortune (estimated to be easily in excess of $500 million) was amassed peddling smut of the lowest gynaecological order, you certainly wouldn’t realise it from his place of work. His lavish personal office – which was used in the filming of Miles Forman’s acclaimed biopic The People Versus Larry Flynt – is larger than your average hotel lobby, and is expensively decked out with oil paintings, rugs, statues, antiques and objects d’art. Truly, it’s a room fit for a porn king.
Flanked by two priceless Tiffany lamps, his impressive hand-carved desk is slightly bigger than a snooker table and must weigh at least a ton. Paralysed from the waist down following an assassination attempt in 1978, Flynt sits impassively in his customised, gold-plated wheelchair on one side, while I holler my questions over from the other.
He’s a large, powerful-looking man, with a blotchy, medicated face and receding red hair. He’s not especially friendly: he just sits there, expressionlessly, calmly taking me in. Occasionally he wraps one of his trembling and heavily bejewelled paws around a tumbler full of ice and throws a few cubes into his mouth, noisily crunching them to slush.
Even when he’s not chewing ice cubes, he can be quite hard to understand. Some years ago he suffered a stroke caused by an overdose of his painkiller medication; he’s had mild pronunciation difficulties ever since. Sounding permanently out of breath, he also harrumphs quite regularly, like a horse.
I’ve been loosely granted 30 minutes for the interview, but they’re not guaranteed. His PA has already informed me that, “Mr. Flynt prefers shorter interviews.” He’ll let me know when my time is up.
Ten years ago, Flynt’s eldest daughter, Tonya Flynt-Vega, wrote a book entitled Hustled in which she claimed that he had sexually abused her as a child. I decide to postpone asking him about it for a while.
Not that there’s any shortage of other questions. Writing about Flynt in the introduction to An Unseemly Man, Oliver Stone (who produced the biopic) described his rags-to-riches life as a minefield of contradictions:
“On one hand, Larry Flynt was raised dirt poor in a one-room shack in Kentucky. On the other, he knows what it is to have more money than he could ever spend. He has had sex both with a chicken and with some of the world’s most beautiful women. He has been a fervent born-again Christian and a reckless atheist. He has lived a pagan, orgiastic lifestyle, but he has also had to contend with being paralyzed in the prime of his life. He has been railroaded and jailed by the justice system, but he has also had his most noble triumph in the halls of the Supreme Court, in one of the finest hours of recent American legal history. He is someone desperately trying to obtain a certain respect, but he is also hopelessly tethered by his crude roots and the derivation of his wealth. And finally, while he has known the great power of running an empire, he has also known the hopelessness of watching the true love of his life suffer from AIDS and eventually die of a drug overdose.”
Whew! Stone wrote those words more than a decade ago. Since then, Flynt has opened a Hustler casino and a string of sex stores, fought even more contentious legal battles, and scandalised Washington by offering cash payments for information about politicians’ sex lives – ending a few high profile political careers as a direct result...
So where to begin with this unseemly man? There are signed photographs of Larry and his (fifth) wife with President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton facing outwards on the desktop. I remark that I’m surprised they’d consent to meet him.
“They all love to meet me, but they don’t wanna be associated with me.”
Flynt once ran for President himself – standing briefly against Ronald Reagan in 1983. “Ah, I was just having fun,” he smiles, nonchalantly waving his hand. “I didn’t have any illusions of grandeur. I just wanted to muddy the waters a little bit.”
More recently, he rolled as a candidate in the 2003 California recall of Governor Gray Davis, styling himself as a “smut peddler who cares.” He ultimately placed sixth in a field of 135 candidates.
“I did that for the same reason – I just took advantage of the platform. I’m in the casino business, too, and I think the state of California has been treating casino owners pretty shabbily. They’re dealing primarily with the Indians and it’s not really an equal playing field. I don’t care what they give the Indians in terms of gaming, but they should make the same thing available to our casinos. That’s the reason I got involved in the governor’s race.”
Does he know Governor Schwarzenegger?
“Yeah, I know Arnold,” he affirms. “Every time I see him I almost avoid shaking his hand, because he’s got so much power in his hand. I’ve got rings on both hands, so when he shakes my hand, he just smiles and goes, ‘Hello Larry! Hello Larry!’ and he squeezes my fucking hand and I’m ready to fucking die! I’ve been trying to get him to change some of the gaming regulations, but I can’t get nowhere with him.”
Flynt opened the Hustler Casino in nearby Gardena in 2000. Reportedly it adds another $20million to his bank balance every year.
“I’m a gambler, that’s how I spend all my spare time,” he explains. “I’m primarily a poker player. Poker or blackjack. I love it. And besides, I don’t do much water-skiing, mountain-climbing or any of that kind of stuff, you know, so I gotta find activities that I’m comfortable participating in. So cards is a very good choice.”
We’re meeting in the week that Hillary Clinton’s been caught out lying about coming under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia. Although Flynt’s a Democrat, he’s not impressed by any of the candidates.
“It’s really depressing,” he sighs, heavily. “I can’t believe the way these candidates – all of ‘em – are getting caught in lies. And then they’re fessing up by saying, ‘Oh well, I mis-spoke’. I dunno why they use this term ‘mis-spoke’. I don’t know why they just can’t say they lied. When I see this going on in a presidential race, I think, ‘Man, do you really want any of these people in the White House?’ They tell a lie when the truth sounds better. It’s just silly.”
Do you give money to any candidates?
“I give money to some of the lesser candidates, some of the senate races and things like that. I didn’t give it to any of the people that are leading the pack.”
If you became President tomorrow, what’s the first thing you’d do?
He stares off into space for a moment and then chuckles softly. “You see, I really have more visions of being a dictator than I do President. Because even though I’m staunchly against the death penalty, if it was in my power to do it, I would march Bush and Cheney out of their offices and onto the lawn under that big oak tree and I’d hang them bastards! Because that’s what they deserve! But they’re gonna ride off into the sunset, they’ve already lined their pockets, and they’re gonna live happily ever after. That’s not right! And Americans aren’t any better off because they spent eight years fucking up the country.
“So you look at dictators down through the centuries, I mean, they knew that the heads had to roll from time to time to keep... order.”
Is that how you run your businesses?
“Yeah. I don’t have to kill them. They just leave if I get mad enough.”
Do you have a bad temper?
“I only lose my temper about twice a year. Someone has to make a really big mistake to get me mad, but I’ve got one. I keep it under control.”
It suddenly occurs to me that perhaps it’s not so strange that he knows Jimmy Carter. After all, back in 1977, Carter’s evangelist sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, briefly converted Flynt to Christianity. Although he continued to publish Hustler (vowing to “hustle for God”), he apparently took it seriously – even claiming that he’d had a vision of God on his private jet. But not any more. “I got over all that,” he laughs when I mention it.
Do you still believe in a God?
“No way! To me, the hereafter is sort of like a fantasy land for people who are afraid of the dark. The mind is a very complicated organ and it puts people through a lot of spaces because we have numerous numbers of mental disorders and manic depressions, mania, psychosis, schizophrenia. They all come out of the brain. And in many ways, although we know a great deal about it, we only know about a tenth of what we could know in terms of how the brain functions.
“These people that have these born again experiences or these spiritual experiences... First of all, it’s embarrassing so they’re not gonna go see a shrink. They’ll talk to a neighbour or a pastor of a church, and then they join the flock and they’re set for the rest of their life to take in that fire and brimstone on a weekly basis. I’m very, very comfortable about my feelings about humanity and what’s on the other side.”
Flynt was an underage recruit in both the army and the navy before becoming involved in the bar and vending-machine businesses. Living in Dayton, Ohio, in the late 1960s, he opened a strip joint named the Hustler Club, the first in the state to feature fully nude dancers. Business was so good that within a couple of years, he owned and operated six Hustler Clubs in as many different cities.
In March 1972, he published a primitive four-page black & white brochure called the Hustler Newsletter, ostensibly to advertise his clubs and dancers. The monthly publication was well-received by his customers and soon began to expand – first to 16-pages and then to 32.
In mid-1973, the US sank deep into recession, which had a catastrophic impact on his strip joints as punters tightened their spending. Hit with a major tax bill and finding himself heavily in debt, Flynt had to find financing quickly. He decided to turn the Hustler Newsletter into a national sex magazine, financing it with strip club money which he should have used to pay his tax bill. Hustler had been in existence for less than four years when he and his lawyer, Gene Reeves Jr. were shot outside the Lawrenceville county courthouse in Georgia, where he was due to face charges of obscenity related to Hustler on March 6, 1978.
He tells me that he can still vividly recall that fateful day.
“You don’t ever forget stuff like that. It happened to me when I was 36 and in the prime of my life. But I’ve always been someone who doesn’t dwell on anything I can’t change. I don’t like spending my life feeling sorry for myself. I was already caught up in the fight for free speech at the time – so I continued to fight for free expression. I did it on all fronts. I had the money to do it, and I had the motivation to do it. So I probably would not have fought as diligently if I hadn’t of got shot.”
Although nobody was ever charged, both Flynt and the authorities believe that the shooter was white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin.
“He’s waiting on a death sentence on four other capital murders,” he says. “He was a white supremacist. He supposedly shot me because he was upset about a photo feature of a black and white couple published in Hustler.”
Flynt’s sexual vision was unashamedly vulgar. Unimpressed with Playboy’s idealised and soft focused ‘girls next door’, Hustler was deliberately tasteless, crude, scatological and gynaecologically explicit, presenting readers with ‘sluts next door’.
The debut issue of Hustler appeared in July 1974 and immediately caused major controversy by featuring ‘pink shots’ (i.e. up close and personal images of female vaginas). His distribution company threatened to have it removed from the market, sparking the first of many legal battles.
He persevered, though, and before long Hustler hit international infamy. Flynt was approached by a paparazzo who had nude photographs of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis relaxing by a pool. The shots had been taken four years previously, when she was 41-years-old.
Flynt paid $18,000 for them and ran them in the August 1975 edition. It proved to be an excellent investment. The controversy brought him to international attention and Hustler sold over a million copies within a couple of days.
As it happened, Jackie’s late husband was the first US President that Flynt ever met. “Yeah, I met JFK briefly back when I was in the navy,” he nods. “Just shook hands with him and said hello.”
Funny how things turned out, eh? Nude shots of his wife later made you rich...
“Yeah,” he grunts, chewing another mouthful of ice cubes.
He still pays big bucks for controversial shots. Just last month, he hit the headlines when he offered 22-year-old Ashley Alexandra Dupré – the call girl involved in the recent downfall of New York governor Eliot Spitzer – a cool million dollars to pose naked for Hustler. She turned him down.
Flynt insists that she made a mistake. “My advice to her attorney was that she should make as much money as fast as she can, because this story isn’t gonna be around for very long. He’s probably advising her, and she’s probably got friends or associates advising her on book deals and potential movie deals and what have you, but, you know, people always make the mistake of not properly taking advantage of their 15 minutes of fame. So I think that’s gonna be her problem.”
It’s also been rumoured that he paid some US soldiers $750,000 for a set of nude shots of Private Jessica Lynch (the supposed “POW” dramatically “rescued” from an Iraqi hospital). The photographs had apparently been taken in an army barracks. Ultimately, he decided not to publish them.
“That’s the only time I ever bought pictures that I didn’t run. I realised that she’d been a pawn in the war on Iraq. They had her in this hospital and the Iraqis wanted to give her back to the US Army and they told them no, they wanted them to hold onto her so they could put together this Hollywood-style rescue team – and try to deliver her as Bush’s Joan of Ark, so to speak.
“When I realised how shabbily she’d been treated by the Bush administration, I made a decision not to publish the photographs. They were taken in a more innocent time and no doubt she had many happy boyfriends along the trail, but that’s no big deal. I just didn’t want to exploit that particular angle when the government had screwed up so badly.”
Speaking of governments screwing up, during the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton in 1998, Flynt offered a million dollars for evidence about the sexual affairs of Republican lawmakers, explaining that “desperate times require desperate measures.” He published the results in a special magazine named The Flynt Report, an act which directly led to the resignation of incoming house speaker Bob Livingston.
His muckraking investigations are far from over. In June of last year, he placed an ad in the Washington Post offering $1million for documented stories involving sex with current congressional members or high-ranking government officials.
“I don’t expose these guys just for the sake of exposing their sex life. I expose them because of their hypocrisy. I see that as the biggest enemy facing democracy. It’s their hypocrisy – if they lie to their wife and they lie to their mistress, how do I know that they can even be trusted?
“And you’ve gotta understand that to become a politician, you’ve gotta have a massive ego, you’ve gotta have a strong sex drive. Most of those guys are located in Washington, which is away from their family. So they’re like lab rats, you know. And it’s not that difficult to catch them out. The only way I can have an influence on government is doing just what I’m doing. Very carefully and methodically bring ‘em down, one by one.”
You must have some powerful enemies...
“Yeah, well what they gonna do? They’ve dragged me through the courts, imprisoned me, I’ve been shot, you know. So what else can they do? So I’m just going for broke.”
In the early years, Flynt fought a number of high profile courtroom battles regarding the regulation of pornography and free speech involving the First Amendment.
His most infamous case began in 1983 when the Reverend Jerry Falwell sued him over an ad parody in Hustler that suggested Falwell had lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse. After five years, the case wound up in the Supreme Court. The court ruled that public figures cannot recover damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” based on parodies. Apparently, he and Falwell developed a very civil relationship afterwards.
Also in 1983 , he refused to disclose his source for a controversial surveillance tape of FBI agents deliberately entrapping car manufacturer John DeLorean and ended up in court again. Flynt turned up one day wearing an American flag as a diaper and was found guilty of contempt of court.
He had already been charged with contempt earlier that year during yet another trial – this one involving a 1976 libel against Kathy Keeton, the then-girlfriend of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. That case finally reached the Supreme Court in 1983. During proceedings, a heavily medicated Flynt repeatedly shouted “FUCK THIS COURT!” (and, indeed, wore a T-shirt bearing the same sentiment). He also referred to the judges as, “Nothing but eight assholes and a token cunt!” (referring to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor). Although arrested for contempt, the charges were later dropped.
American justice doesn’t come cheap. How much money has Flynt spent on lawyers over the years?
“You know, over the last 35 years probably about $50million. That’s just for lawyers, that’s not settlements or anything, just legal fees.”
After all of his courtroom experiences, he could probably dispense with the attorneys and defend himself at this stage.
“I might not have a law degree,” he says, “but when it comes to the question of obscenity and the First Amendment, I probably have more knowledge than anybody.”
When’s the last time you stood in a courtroom?
“I’ve been staying pretty quiet on that front. But back when I was fighting with all of them over the release of the DeLorean tape, they jailed me for not giving up my sources, they threw me in for contempt of court. I was like living in a courtroom.
“I wouldn’t recommend anybody behave the way I did, but it finally got to a point where the prosecutors told my lawyers, ‘We don’t wanna see your client any more! Don’t bring him in here!’ Because there was a circus every time. I took the attitude: if they’re gonna treat me like a joke, I’ll just act like one.”
As a committed freedom of speech advocate, Flynt still bankrolls numerous legal battles.
“We’re constantly putting out bushfires all over the country,” he explains. “I just supported and paid to defend a woman in Texas who was charged for... you know, they’re like Tupperware parties where the women get together in the neighbourhood and they buy and exchange sex toys. They busted her for that and sex toys was made illegal in the state of Texas. But we got all that overturned.
“A few years back the Republicans tacked a rider to a big defence bill for the year and tried to make virtual porn obscene. Now virtual porn means that there’s no actors or actresses, no children involved. Digitally, a company like Pixar here in California can create lifelike figures out of thin air – and that’s what you call virtual porn. The question was raised if there’s nobody being exploited in this – you know, it’s just computer imagery – do they wanna interfere with your thought process? They wanna tell you that you can’t handle seeing something even though it’s not real.
“Senator Orrin Hatch got that thing through. My attorney, Lou Sirkin, took that to the United States Supreme Court and won the case. You see, if you don’t fight these laws, they become the law of the land. And the reason I do it – and a couple of other people that I’m friends with, like the Freedom Coalition people – if we don’t get together and fight ‘em, the government will just keep steamrolling. They pass some of the stupidest laws. Some of the cities and the states do the same thing. It’s impossible to fight all of them, so we’ve just gotta pick and choose.”
Freedom of speech is obviously one of Flynt’s major passions. While they’re never going to stick his face on Mount Rushmore, some consider him an American hero. “It’s one thing to study the First Amendment in class, and it’s another thing being in the trenches and dealing with it. Like in 1977, I stood before a judge and he sentenced me to seven to 25 years in jail for publishing Hustler. Now, fortunately, that got reversed on appeal. But I think something like that has to happen to you before you realise that, hey, individual rights is something that can no longer be taken for granted. You can lose them as easily as you can gain them.
“You can go out and take a poll today – 98% of the people will tell you they believe in free speech. Go back to them and say, ‘Well what about hate speech, flag-burning and pornography?’ They’ll say, ‘Uh, I didn’t know you were talking about that!’
“So all of a sudden a 98% favourability drops to 50% or below. So everyone has their own version of what free speech should be They don’t realise that, in order to defend free speech, you have to stand on a podium with somebody who, to the top of his lungs, advocates everything that you have fought against your entire life and makes your blood boil... Well, if you can defend his right to free speech, then you have earned your position to be a part of the rare few that can do it.”
The Jackie O issue made Flynt a millionaire. In 1976, he created his privately held company Larry Flynt Publications (LFP) and began publishing and distributing other sex magazines – most notably Barely Legal and Taboo.
A decade later, LFP began publishing more mainstream magazines as well. In 1996, LFP sold off the distribution business and most of its mainstream titles. Two years later, they began to produce pornographic movies. Today, LFP publishes just one mainstream magazine – Tips & Tricks Video Game Codebook. However, it still turns a more than healthy $150 million profit every year.
Needless to say, the rise of the internet has irrevocably changed the face – and other bodily parts – of the porno business. But while newsstand sales are down, his online business is good.
“Hustler obviously sells less today, but back in the early Nineties we realised the impact the internet was gonna have. It was inevitable that this was going to erode the circulation of not just men’s magazines but of publications in general. And it’s done that. Even newspapers are fighting to stay alive – they’re losing 2 or 3% of their circulation a year.”
Incidentally, how do you get on with Hugh Hefner?
“I’ve known Hefner for years. He kind of thinks he invented sex and he always wants to take the high ground. It’s really difficult for me to have much of a relationship with him. He does deserve a lot of accolades for being in the forefront of the sexual revolution and the feminist movement back in the Sixties, but he’s still pretty much stuck in that period of time. He didn’t grow. You’ve heard of that theory called the ‘Peter Principal’. You know, a guy grows so high in the company and he can’t grow any higher. He’s just peaked out. I think Hef fits that mould.”
We’ve been talking for more than half-an-hour, and I’m concerned that he’ll terminate the interview at any moment. Time to turn up the heat a little.
Your daughter, Tonya, published a book in 1998 accusing you of molesting her as a child. You disowned her at the time. Have you patched things up since?
Curiously, Larry seems to brighten up a little when I ask this question. “I took a polygraph test and passed. And then she called and I’d instructed my secretary to tape any calls that she made. So she made some calls and she apologised for what she did, and said she didn’t know why, and would I forgive her, and all that sort of thing.”
And did you forgive her?
“She’s got a host of mental problems and I don’t need them on my plate now.”
You’ve got four other children. Are you close to them?
“No. I’m close to one daughter that works for me here [Theresa Flynt is VP of Development of Hustler Hollywood Stores]. The rest of my kids spend the whole week discussing how I screwed up their lives. Ha, ha! That’s how they spend their lives.”
You’re now onto your fifth marriage...
“Well, I’m with somebody,” he says. “I’ve been married for a while. But the sparks don’t fly like they used to.”
I don’t mean to be rude but, erm, is it all still working down there?
“Yeah. The bullet that sunk me didn’t hit my spinal cord, it hit the base of my spinal cord. It hit my cauda equina – which is Latin for ‘horse’s tail’ and it’s a bundle of sensory nerves that come out of the base of your spine cord. I so just basically lost my motor nerves in my lower extremities. But the sensory nerves are still there.”
Do you have any regrets?
“I wish I’d worn a bulletproof vest when I went on trial that day. Ha, ha!”
Hustler used to publish a regular cartoon called Chester the Molester, created by your cartoon editor, Dwaine Tinsley. However, Tinsley was imprisoned for molesting his own daughter in the 1980s, and you rehired him when he was released.
“Well, he’s since passed away. What he was accused of was very much out of character. His conviction is no longer on the books. That was throwed out by the court. So it’s difficult for me to talk about was he a child molester. I don’t really know. He worked for me for about 25 years and I never had any inclination that he had any kind of sexual preference involving children.”
Over the years, Hustler has frequently pushed the boundaries of taste, and published graphic photoshoots depicting everything from gang-rape to incest. One particularly infamous cover in 1978 depicted a naked woman being fed into a meat grinder (ironically, it appeared during his ‘born-again’ phase).
So is Larry Flynt a misogynist?
He shrugs his shoulders: “Well, I’ve had thousands of girls pose for my publications and I’ve never had one – not one - tell me that she was being exploited or that what she was being asked to do was demeaning to women. I can understand why you’ve got both the religious right and the feminists criticising pornography. But they’re coming at you from two different directions.” He crunches another ice cube. “There are two classes of people that oppose pornography – those who don’t know what they’re missing, and those who don’t know what they’re talking about.
“I’ve been blamed for every ill that society has embodied over the last 30 years. But I hope it will happen in my lifetime that people will begin to get over this sex question, you know. We know very little about human sexuality other than that people do it. But it’s difficult to get an intelligent dialogue going on about human sexuality because the church feels threatened by it – and the feminists are the same.
“But the feminists attacks are dwindling because [Andrea] Dworkin and some of those other people have all passed away and they’ve gone, so the only ‘patriarch’ you have is Gloria Steinem. And she’s lost a tremendous amount of her influence and will continue to lose it.”
Flynt blames feminists for the controversial defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment back in the early 1970s.
“We’d got a constitutional amendment – they needed 38 States to ratify it and they fell one state short. Feminists felt that all the rhetoric regarding the women’s movement should come out of New York. And they forgot about that woman in Topeka, Kansas, that’s trying to get three kids and a husband off to school and work. Although she was proud to be a feminist, she didn’t really have time to be part of the team. So the radicals turned off a lot of those people.
“The feminists shot themselves in the foot – they defeated themselves. Otherwise the Equal Rights Amendment would’ve passed. 1971 is light years away. A lot of the people in college graduating today weren’t even born then, so they don’t know the history of the Equal Rights Amendment, why it didn’t pass. And they don’t really understand why they have to work for 25% less than what men work for in the same job.”
With that, he looks over at his PA and nods. My time’s obviously up. But not quite. Larry’s PA invites me to a talk he’s giving this evening to a media studies class in the University of Southern California. It’s basically a screening of The People Versus Larry Flynt followed by a Q&A session mediated by the award-winning San Francisco Chronicle columnist Robert Scheer.
There’s a full house. I sit with Larry’s wife of 10 years, Liz, a softy spoken LA-native of Asian extraction (apparently she used to be his part-time nurse), and we witness him charm a highly sceptical audience. Liz applauds his every joke. His armed bodyguard waits watchfully in the wings.
Initially, the students want to know what he thought of Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of him in the movie. “Woody played me better than I play myself,” he laughs.
Many of the questions that follow are similar to the ones I asked him earlier – and often he gives exactly the same response, word for word. He gets a standing ovation at the end.
Afterwards, we head on to The Four Seasons for a late dinner. Larry’s trembling hands make him quite a messy eater, but Liz is on hand to wipe his soup from his chin. She barely has time to touch her own.
He’s an entertaining and amiable host. He even offers some post interview analysis. “I’m always at my best when someone’s really trying to nail me. When you asked that question about my daughter, I started to enjoy the interview.”
He regularly talks at universities. “I’ve talked in over half the universities in the country. As well as overseas – I’ve spoken at Oxford, Cambridge. You get the message out to young people. Because they’re really so sheltered – regardless of how open their family might be that they come from. They get to college or law school and they need somebody to give them a sense of the real world.”
He tells me that he’s been to Ireland twice, staying in Dromoland Castle. “I really liked it over there.” When I mention that I’ve been trying to pin down an interview with Courtney Love (who played his fourth wife, Althea, in the movie), he offers to call her for me. “Courtney’s been having a real tough time lately, but me and Mel [Gibson] have been trying to help her out. She’s a nice girl.”
When I mildly chasten him for repeating my quotes at the USC talk, he guffaws and says, “Before you go, one good line for you. When you ask me for a quote, I’ll give you this. This is an original, okay? Keep it, you’re free to use it. Two things you’ll never know about a man – why he loves his dog or his woman. Because you always see a guy with two you wouldn’t have neither one of!”
I don’t quite get it, but laugh politely anyway. “Mr. Flynt’s full of lines like that – just funny little words of wisdom,” Liz tells me, smiling adoringly.
Before his bodyguard wheels him off to his waiting Bentley, he offers me a final life philosophy: “Happiness is a way to travel, not a destination. You always hear people say, ‘Well, if the mortgage is paid off, I’d be happy’, or ‘If the kids graduate from college, I’d be happy’. Everybody wants to be happy tomorrow. But when I get out of bed everyday, I think, ‘What’s gonna make me happy today?’ That’s why happiness really is a way to travel and not a destination.”
“And are you happy at the moment?” I ask.
“Considering all the issues, yes, I think I’m very happy. A guy would be a little bit loony if he said he was 100% happy, but... you know.”
With that, Larry Claxton Flynt laughs, harrumphs and is wheeled off goldenly into the night. Maybe he was hustling me, but I couldn’t help liking the guy.