Love Advice from Larry Flynt
I have three icons: Joan Rivers, Martha Stewart and Larry Flynt. So, when I drove to Beverly Hills to meet Flynt at his headquarters, I was giddy like a schoolgirl at a pop concert – just my Bieber happens to be a 73-year-old, foul-mouthed pornographer bound to a wheelchair.
My favorite cover of Hustler magazine is from October of 1983. A naked, punk-rock girl sprays in green block letters, “George Bush has A.I.D.S.” while she moons her lips. “Aerobics Gives You Herpes”, “The Pope Likes Valley Girls”, “Punk Kills” and “Lech Wałęsa Snorts Coke”. (I could see the Polish politician keeping bags in his boots like he’s Stevie Nicks.) I always liked looking at old girlie mags, and Hustler was the best: offensive, political and funny. Playboy was like a book of Barbies. Penthouse was entertaining – especially Penthouse forum – but hokey. But Hustler followed the same rule as all great rock music: if parents hate it, then it must be good.
With the 1996 Academy Award-winning film based on his life, The People vs. Larry Flynt, followed by the publication of his autobiography, “An Unseemly Man: My Life As Pornographer, Pundit and Social Outcast” the next year, Flynt was pitched into the public eye as more than just some smut peddler publishing pussy photographs. It didn’t matter that most of the crowd who knew of his notoriety were merely foetuses while he was fighting for free speech in the Supreme Court (myself included.) He became an intelligent, risk-taking American icon, who believed so wholeheartedly in the First Amendment that he lost his legs for it.
That Hustler vs. Jerry Falwell case was the pinnacle. In 1983, Flynt’s magazine had published a fake Campari ad claiming that right-leaning pastor Jerry Falwell had lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse. The ad was parody. A fucking joke. And Hustler had every right to mock the religious figure, just like the political cartoonists who had made fun of George Washington for years. Was saying Falwell fucked his mom any worse? When the Supreme Court took the side of Hustler it made law the fact that you cannot sue for hurt feelings and win, no matter how famous you are. Comedians, writers, artists and parody clowns alike owe their livelihood to Flynt.
I admire him for many reasons, but his dedication to the First Amendment is one of the biggest. He’s so much more than a pornography tycoon. To me, Flynt is an example of what it means to be an American: rags-to-riches proof that you can make the world your oyster if you work your ass off and don’t let anyone tell you what to do.
“What’s the best sex you ever had?” I asked Flynt, from across his giant desk.
He smiled. “Well, the worst sex I ever had…”
“I said the best,” I interrupted and we both started laughing.
“Well, the worst sex I ever had was good. I get a lot of flashbacks.” He rested his head on his hand, which sparkled with rings each worth more than my car, and continued. “There have been so many women, but I was with a beautiful Italian girl when I was 18 years old in Naples. I was in the military. This girl sort of educated me about the birds and the bees. It was a very memorable experience.”
I didn’t bother asking Flynt how many women he has had sex with. Even though he has been paralyzed from the waist down since that white supremacist shot him for publishing too many interracial photo spreads, he’s probably fucked more chicks than my last four boyfriends put together. However, I knew he has also been married five times, most famously to his fourth wife, Althea Flynt, who was his partner in crime
So, although everyone asks Flynt about sex, I wanted to know what he thinks about love.
“The most dangerous aspect of relationships is that people often confuse love and sex, when in fact, they are two very different things,” he said. “When it comes to sex, it’s like this two-bit bedroom romance and it gets so good that all of a sudden they can’t figure out what to call it and it’s ‘I love you’. Sex can be a totally different and gratifying experience, but it is not always love and you should not confuse the two.”
To his left stood a giant cardboard cutout of his current wife [Liz Berrios], propaganda for the Hustler casino. If the thing was life-size, then his wife is a tiny woman.
“Do you follow your own philosophy about love and sex?” I asked.
“I am married, but I am not in love,” he said. His frankness was startling. “I think everyone gets one true love in their life and I had mine and that was my fourth wife [Althea Flynt]. I cannot see anyone ever replacing her. There’s that old saying that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, and I believe that.”
I never wanted to believe in the idea that everyone only gets one true love, because it’s a scary thing to grasp. What if I had it and lost it? What if I missed it because I was too busy? What if I had no idea it was stomping on my feet and spitting in my face? Everyone thinks about this. I have never met a person who sincerely did not want to find lasting love and partnership.
“Love is being with someone when you are not necessarily always thinking about sex,” Flynt said to me. “You enjoy their company, companionship, and just being with them in an all-encompassing, wonderful way.”
Flynt was married to this true love, Althea Leasure Flynt, from 1976 until her death in 1987. I’m sure they would still be together today had she not accidentally drowned in their Los Angeles bathtub. They first met at his Hustler Club, in Ohio, where she was employed as an underage stripper. Both of them came from poor Kentucky families. She was orphaned, at the age of 8, when her father murdered her mother, grandfather and her mother’s friend before fatally wounding himself. She was a wild, intelligent, socialite who stood by Flynt, helping him create Hustler magazine and supporting him constantly whatever insanity he was going through. She even ran Hustler when he became overtaken by religion and briefly fell off the map. She was as much a part of shaping that publication as he was. Angela Bowie called her “a devastatingly smart woman”.
According to The Washington Post, Althea got heavily into punk in the eighties after a mail clerk in the Hustler office gave her a few cassette tapes. She wanted to start her own magazine The Rage devoted to her new-found subculture, but sadly, all the money allotted for her project was turned over to Flynt’s infamous presidential campaign. She was also a drug addict who had become hooked after dipping into his post-shooting pain meds. They each overdosed four times. She had an apparent cocaine habit that cost $20,000 a week. Eventually, he kicked the drugs. She did not. Then, she was diagnosed with Aids Related Complex and told she would not survive longer than a year. In a 1987 interview, Flynt admitted that he and Althea were considering cryonics so that she could be revived when a cure was found.
Althea was already sick when she died. In a 1987 obituary-like remembrance of her, the writer noted that when Flynt was shot and paralyzed, leaving him impotent, Althea said that she too was giving up on sex. And yet, “He said in a 1983 interview that if she were the one paralyzed, he would be ''downstairs screwing the maid.” Still, Althea and Flynt had an unconventional sex life, so whilst he might have fucked the maid, his heart and his dick seem disassociated. Besides, at her request, Flynt once bought Althea her choice of girl at a brothel as a birthday gift. It seems cheating is only harmful when emotions are involved. If no one gets upset, nothing wrong was done.
I wonder what it’s like to be the wife who follows Althea, to know how significant she was, to both Hustler and Flynt. I’m far too sensitive to ever be the 'next'. His current spouse must be a secure, confident woman who does not need to be coddled. But then Flynt’s in a unique situation: he is fucking rich. And rich people can have marriages that work like business friendships, ones that do not have to rely on the ridiculous hope of love. What propels those of us who don’t have that fiscal luxury, but love?
My husband is not rich. He came from poor, white trash, just like Flynt. And just like Flynt, he values chivalry and manners over many other qualities. He is honest. He works hard and we have fun. I love him so much, it’s stupid. That’s all I could ask for. I’ve dated rich guys. They were great, but they were not “the one great love”, I guess, or else we would have ended up together.
I have this romantic admiration for Flynt and Althea’s unconventional, yet successful love story. Nothing about their relationship out was boring or typical. They were porn peddlers who had a very open, very sexual marriage, but they clearly loved one another more than anything. Best friends who needed one another as much as they understood one another.
I had a feeling America’s oldest smut peddler would know more about love than most.
Photograph by Mandy-Lyn