Porn publisher Larry Flynt, whose free-speech battles were fictionalized in the movie The People vs. Larry Flynt, died of heart failure at the age of 78, his family confirmed.

The controversial figure wound up in a wheelchair after being shot outside a courthouse in Georgia in 1978, during an obscenity trial related to his Hustler magazine. He was also publisher of the rock magazine Rip and appeared in Motley Crue’s video for their 1998 song “Afraid.”

Over the course of his business dealings, from opening the first Hustler clubs featuring naked dancers to the Barely Legal porn website, Flynt frequently found himself entrenched in legal arguments. Some of those – including the 1988 trial at the center of the 1996 movie – became landmark legal examples on the subject of the First Amendment. He often described himself as the “smut peddler who cares.”

In his 2004 book Sex Lies & Politics: The Naked Truth, Flynt claimed that his victory in the case, which was based on the publication of a satiric cartoon, opened up greater scope for criticism of celebrities and politicians. “In the years following the Supreme Court's decision, I noticed how the skits and monologues on Leno and Letterman, and even those on Saturday Night Live and The Howard Stern Show, were much more on the cutting-edge than they ever could have been before 1998," he noted.

"Celebrities, politicians - anyone in the news is made fun of all the time. It's a main staple of these programs. These shows can imitate, impersonate, put words in people's mouths. There is virtually no limit as long as they don't knowingly and maliciously make a false and hurtful statement, offered as fact. ... We wanted to offend people. We felt that the First Amendment afforded us the right to be offensive.”

 

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