The 74-year-old Kentucky native is the founder of the infamous Hustler, a porn magazine that since 1974 has pushed the boundaries of the public’s sensitives. It was his contribution to the porn industry that brought him wealth in the form of a diversified empire that now stretches into casinos, hotels, films, and retail outlets.
That last endeavor took Flynt to South Florida last weekend for the grand opening of his 22nd Hustler Hollywood retail store. He has other successful locations in Florida, including Fort Lauderdale and St. Augustine, so the latest, situated in West Palm Beach, seemed a natural fit.
Though it might seem questionable to open a brick-and-mortar store in an industry dominated by online purchases, Flynt stresses that isn’t the case with Hustler Hollywood.
“Our store is not a place to shop,” he says over the phone from California. He calls his stores a “destination” and “very posh” locales meant for couples. “When you walk inside,” he adds, “you could very well be at Neiman Marcus.”
In addition to bringing him riches, Flynt’s various businesses have also brought him triumphs in public life, some at great cost. Beginning in 1973, Flynt was sued several times for libel thanks to Hustler's takedowns of celebrities, preachers, politicians, and other famous people. In 1988, Flynt won his most notable case, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, a landmark decision in favor of free speech and establishing a precedent where public figures could not recover damages for "intentional infliction of emotional distress" based on parodies.
Flynt's staunch support of the First Amendment and willingness to exercise it nearly cost him his life in 1978, when Joseph Paul Franklin attempted to kill Flynt over images of interracial sex that appeared in Hustler. Paralyzed from the waist down as a result, Flynt has nonetheless never wavered in the face of censorship, either from the barrel of a gun or the mouth of a politician.
“I’ve never been afraid of speaking out; I’ve never been afraid for my life. I gave up my legs for it, for a wheelchair here. I’ve been to prison. I’ve always felt that if something is not worth going to jail for, it’s not worth very much.”
Unsurprisingly, Flynt adamantly fought Donald Trump throughout the real-estate magnate's presidential campaign, even offering a $1 million bounty for tapes showing Trump's misconduct. It was a tactic Flynt soon realized wouldn’t work against America’s newly elected leader.
“In the old days, when we used to have politicians with mistresses having illicit affairs, it didn’t take more than an affair [to take them down]. Trump has had everything thrown at him, and it doesn’t seem to stick. I don’t think unless you find him in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, it’ll make much difference.”
Now that Trump sits in the Oval Office, Flynt considers the effect he thinks the presidency might have on journalists, universities, satirists, and other outspoken groups.
“He definitely will have an effect on the First Amendment. I can’t believe the mainstream press has laid down and rolled over the way they have. They should’ve held him more accountable; a lot of people argue this point. We always respond to those insane tweets of his. We shouldn’t. We should force him to have press conferences. He thrives on the attention. He needs the attention. As long as he can direct the media any way he wants to with those silly tweets, it’s all people ever talk about.
“If I was one of the moderators or hosts of a national show, I wouldn’t let him come on unless he tells the truth. If you want to say an opinion, that’s fine, but if you want to tell a lie, he should be disinvited until he can tell the truth. I guess for the sake of ratings, they don’t want to take him off. He can tell a lie, and they let him slide.”
Over the years, many people have been offended by the political cartoons and nude pictorials in Flynt’s magazines. If there’s anything that offends him personally, it's what Trump and his ilk have been allowed to do for so long.
“I think the First Amendment has the right to be offensive. If you’re not going to offend anyone, then you don’t need the protection of the First Amendment. But there’s a big difference between doing a scathing cartoon or writing an editorial against some politician and telling a boldface lie.”
Asked about the prospect of taking a more definitive role from within the government, Flynt laughs at the idea of running for major political office. “In 1984, I ran for president as a joke, and I couldn’t believe the support I got. That’s long before Ross Perot came along. And I knew there was a disgruntled number of Americans out there who wanted anybody but the above. I think I would’ve gotten 15, 20 percent of the vote.
“Democracy is hard,” he explains. “You gotta work at it. People take their individual rights and civil liberties for granted. But you know, you could lose them as easily as you gain them. That’s what people don’t understand. Democracy isn’t necessarily going to stay forever. We’d like to think it will. But when strongmen like Trump come along, you never know what kind of dark alleys they’re going to take us down.”