May 28, 2011
Don’t expect Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF charged with the sexual assault of a New York hotel maid, to stand trial or stick around, says Larry Flynt, the multi-millionaire porn magnate, advocate of freedom of speech and observer of the sexual transgressions of the powerful. “He’s 62. Think of the jail time if he’s found guilty. I think he’ll skip the country at the earliest opportunity and return to France. I don’t know if he’s guilty, but when a man has that much power, the question is: what lies behind his behaviour? Well, synonymous with extreme wealth and power is a huge ego, and the need to feed this ego with constant sexual conquests.”
That priapic knot is also the focus of Flynt’s book, One Nation under Sex, which exposes the sex lives of American presidents, past and almost present, from Abraham Lincoln’s predilection for sharing his bed with men to marriages such as those of the Roosevelts and Kennedys, with infidelity rife on both sides (Jackie Kennedy’s conquests included Marlon Brando, William Holden and Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s brother). While Flynt has been travelling around America promoting his salacious tome (co-written with the academic David Eisenbach), the country has been gripped by two sex scandals: Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child.
“Arnold’s maid was in his house for years. That child cannot be the result of one-off sex,” says Flynt, proprietor of Larry Flynt Publications (most famously the publisher of Hustler magazine) and with a fortune of about $1 billion. “Women, especially, hate him. I don’t think he can redeem himself.”
In a New York hotel suite Flynt, 68, sits in his gold-plated wheelchair, which he has had since 1978, when he was shot and paralysed from the waist down in an attempted murder. “I saw Nat King Cole’s gold wheelchair in a museum and thought, ‘If I have to be paralysed, I want one’,” He has a smooth face and short ginger hair and speaks in a frail growl. He was recently in hospital for a urological problem and had surgery, “but it’s no big deal”. A stroke that he had years ago after overdosing on pain medication may explain his blurred speech. But he is no complainer, is unapologetic about pornography, dryly funny (claiming that Woody Harrelson, who played him in the movie The People vs Larry Flynt, “made a better me than me”) and blush-inducingly open when talking about sex, whether it’s losing his virginity, his rejection of monogamy or his battery-operated penis implant.
His latest book is a riot of prurient history, so when Flynt says that the Kennedys’ sexual indiscretions depressed him, “because I grew up during Camelot”, I snort: “Come off it, you go into them in huge detail.” He also published nude pho- tos of Jackie in Hustler in 1975. “I was hop- ing to make a lot of money, and I did,” he concedes. “It’s about capturing an icon in a way you’d never expect. I could make millions with nude pictures of the Queen.”
Although he writes about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, Flynt, a Democrat, asserts: “If you’ve fought two wars and balanced the budget, you should be able to sleep with whoever you want, but a certain discretion is required.” What about cheated-upon wives and partners? “I don’t think human beings were intended to be monogamous,” he says. He never has been. “It doesn’t appeal at all. I don’t think monogamy is in our genes. I’ve always been the Energizer Bunny. Sex has been a major, pleasurable part of my life.” Were his wives OK about his promiscuity? “No, that’s why I’ve been married five times. My current wife [Elizabeth Berrios] is more tolerant.” What if they weren’t faithful? “I don’t know how I’d react, but how can I expect them to be something I’m not? I’ve never demanded fidelity, but they’ve never said, ‘Larry, I want to sleep with someone else’. Monogamy is more feasible for women. Men are such dogs.”
Flynt was born and raised in poverty in Kentucky. “We didn’t have two food stamps to rub together. That explains my success. The only way was up.” His father was an alcoholic. “He came back from World War Two and drank till he was 60. He was violent and abusive to my mother but not to me.” Flynt first joined the Army, then the Navy. He lost his virginity at 15 to a prostitute in Georgia. He began empire- building in 1965 with a collection of bars. Hustler began in 1972 and mushroomed to include clubs, videos, shops and a casino.
Flynt remembers his secretary in the early days saying to him, “That’s 18”, referring to the 18th would-be porn model he had had sex with: “If they’re in there longer than ten minutes, I know you’ve f***ed them.” He had lots of sex: “The more you get, the more you want.” Did he ever catch any diseases? “Never. In the Navy, a medic advised us to drink five beers before sex, so we would urinate any nasty stuff out, and to wash everywhere with hot soapy water. It worked and became such a habit that with my second wife I would wash after sex, which she found embarrassing.”
His fourth wife, Althea, was his true love: “We were inseparable.” A drugs and alcohol addict, she contracted HIV in 1983 through a blood transfusion, Flynt says, and developed Aids. “We had a completely open marriage. She liked girls as well as guys.” After the diagnosis of her illness they “abstained” from sex. She drowned in 1987. “It was awful. I was so deeply in love with her that the whole process of her dying was numbing.” Flynt is HIV-negative.
Althea is “still the love of my life”, Flynt says. Berrios understands. “I love her, but not like Althea.” Did he share Althea’s bisexual leanings? “No, I’m a very uptight heterosexual.” And yet he has become quite the gay rights crusader. “I’m opposed to any form of discrimination. The greatest right any nation can afford its people is to be left alone.” As for gay marriage, “They can marry a tree for all I care”.
His sexual liberalism sits uneasily alongside his pornography, with titles such as Barely Legal glorifying the youth of its models. “They accuse me of exploiting women. We don’t coerce them to appear. They want money, have a great body and want it preserved in our magazines.” He says that men “are turned on by what they see and women by what they read. Men can ingest huge quantities of pornography, and their female partners find it hard to compete. Women should stop trying to compartmentalise their attitudes to sex and pornography and focus on the kind of relationships they want.”
As for young people, whose access to sex and sexual imagery has never been greater thanks to the internet, Flynt says: “There is no evidence that porn is harmful to children, although they shouldn’t be exposed to it. We can’t limit what adults can see based on what children might see. The problem is sex education: over 30 per cent of kids aged between 11 and 13 are having sex. Teach them properly about sex. Tell them about the diseases. Scare the shit out of them. Tell them that along with sex comes responsibility. At the moment they’re just shown how to put a condom on a banana.”
Flynt has five children (four daughters and a son), but has a relationship with only one, Theresa, 40. “The others spend their weeks trying to figure out how I screwed up their lives.” One daughter, Tonya, wrote a book claiming that her father had forced her to perform oral sex on him, which Flynt denies; he says that he has taped evidence of her admitting that she was mistaken. She told him that he “ruined” her life. “I told her, ‘Here’s a solution: for ten bucks go to the courthouse and change your name’. I don’t miss being a parent. They’re motivated by money and I don’t give them any.
“When I started Hustler I hoped to get 5 per cent of the pornography market,” he recalls. “In less than a year I had a third.” Money “buys you freedom”. But despite the private jet and Hollywood home, Flynt is most proud of his free-speech campaigning, which began in the early 1970s and in the late 1980s led to a landmark case against him brought by the tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell in which a judge ruled that public figures who had been parodied had no grounds to sue for “intentional infliction of emotional distress”.
After one obscenity case in 1976 Flynt was sentenced to 25 years in prison (which he did not serve): “Which was when I real- ised that freedom of speech is not freedom for the thought you agree with, but the one you hate the most.” The sentiment was not shared by his would-be assassin, Joseph Paul Franklin, who shot him after Hustler featured an interracial coupling. “The shots rang out, then I was on the street. It felt like a hot poker and ripped up my intestines. For a month it was touch and go whether I would live, but I accepted my paralysis easily and quickly. I resolved that I wouldn’t spend my life dwelling on some- thing I couldn’t change. I don’t think about being in a wheelchair until someone brings it up. I decided not to feel sorry for myself or be angry at the world, and to move on.”
Chronic pain led Flynt to become addicted to morphine, cocaine, sleeping pills, uppers and downers. “There are two kinds of addiction: physiological and psychological. I was physiologically addicted to drugs. When the pain was dealt with, I quit.” As for sex, although he has had a battery-operated penis implant removed “after an infection”, he still has sex: “And [I] enjoy it. Some people talk about growing old gracefully and it’s horseshit. I feel like I’m in my thirties. People say you can’t take your money with you; if that’s so, I’m not going to go.”
Flynt’s legacy, he hopes, will be “that I fought to expand the parameters of free speech”. He wishes that America would “become more like Europe”, where the Church is detached from politics and “where it’s more laid-back about sex. In France and Spain they take three-hour lunch breaks, which means they can have mistresses.” Flynt concludes that “the Government has no business in your bedroom” — whereas he, of course, has.