Larry Flynt, the pornographer who launched Hustler magazine in 1974 and became a fierce First Amendment activist, has died of heart failure. He was 78. Hustler was far more explicit than the likes of Playboy and one infamous issue featured an illustration of a woman going through a meat grinder. Flynt and the magazine fought numerous legal battles resulting from obscenity charges. From The First Amendment Encyclopedia:
In his first major trial in Cincinnati in 1977, Flynt was championed by celebrities who took out an advertisement in the New York Times that likened his situation to that of a Soviet dissident.
He was fighting another charge in a Georgia courthouse in 1978 when he was ambushed and shot, allegedly for publishing explicit photographs of a mixed-race couple. One bullet shattered Flynt's spine and left him in constant pain.
Flynt, who proudly refers to himself as a "smut peddler," spent millions on legal fees in the decades he ran Hustler. His most famous legal case involved Jerry Falwell, founder of the right-wing group Moral Majority.
In 1983, Hustler ran a liquor advertisement parody suggesting that Falwell had lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse. Falwell sued, saying he suffered emotional distress.
In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988), the Supreme Court invalidated a lower court's $200,000 damage award and ruled that a public figure cannot recover damages stemming from a satirical attack. The decision demonstrated that the adult entertainment industry is frequently in the vanguard of First Amendment free speech court battles that affect the wider culture. Flynt has also spent much of his time and fortune on exposing hypocrisy among the guardians of public morals.