Larry Flynt, the unabashed king of hard-core print pornography, is one of the most controversial figures in the country. The raw porn he distributes in his flagship Hustler and other magazines has angered religious conservatives, feminists and lots of other folks who belong to neither of those camps. Yet his battles against censorship have won appreciation from free-speech advocates.
The only two things on which people can agree concerning Flynt are that he is a skilled businessman and that his life has been tragic in several ways. In 1978, as he was walking out of a Georgia courthouse, he was shot by a would-be assassin and left paralyzed from the waist down. The admitted shooter, white supremacist John Paul Franklin, was later convicted of nine murders. He also admitted to wounding Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan in a 1980 sniper attack.
In 1987, Flynt's wife, Althea--suffering from AIDS and an addiction to painkillers--slipped under the water in the bathtub and drowned.
Flynt now rules over his businesses from a huge penthouse office famously decorated with French provincial furniture, floor-to-ceiling reproductions of famous paintings, sculptures doubling as lamps, thick carpets and hefty chandeliers.
Though weakened by a recent bout with pneumonia, Flynt was unerringly polite during the interview. He spoke softly in his characteristic, gravely Kentucky drawl. A secretary, Rhonda Williams, was on hand to help him work his computer and move his gold-plated wheelchair.
His office desktop computer is a Dell with a ViewSonic monitor. He uses a large trackball instead of a mouse.
BOOKMARKED SITES: Just about the only sites I go to are for Hustler [which costs subscribers $29.99 a month] and the Hustler Casino. These sites are important to our business.
About a year ago, our Internet business stopped growing. I looked at a lot of Web sites at the time and found out who designed them. Then I made a calculated decision--publishing is my business, and I can't produce for the Internet like these companies. They are better at it.
So we interviewed several of the companies and went with one called Web Quest. It was a good arrangement. Six months after we outsourced everything, we were making between $500,000 and $700,000 a month on the Internet.
Q. Do you go to any sites that are not business-related?
Not really. I don't use it for personal use at all. I'm a dinosaur--I do a lot of reading.
I could be a real computer nerd, but I don't see any upside to it. I have a lot of friends, like Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson [who portrayed Flynt in the film "The People vs. Larry Flynt"], that are on the computer until 3 in the morning. I think you are supposed to be doing a lot more pleasurable things than that.
Q. I see that there is a stock ticker going across the top of your screen.
Rhonda Williams: That is always on.
Flynt: I just watch the half-dozen stocks I own. I used to own a lot more, but I got rid of them.
Williams: The screen saver you see is his jet. It's Larry's baby. [She goes to the Hustler Casino site.]
Flynt: It's like a casino in Vegas. We have all the glitter. [The casino is in Gardena, where card playing for money is allowed.] You can't gamble on the site because that's illegal, but you can learn how to gamble, play the games.
CELL PHONES: All of my close aides around me, they have them. And they all have pagers.
Williams: It's the kind of pager that you can put e-mail in. And his assistants also have walkie-talkies so if they go to a party or somewhere, they can coordinate everything.
Flynt: I try and make life as easy as it can be. I don't carry any of those things because the people with me have them at all times. I don't want to worry about those things.
OTHER TECH DEVICES: Not for me. The kids are very much into technology, I mean the college kids. That's why I told my people that we had to do something with our Web site or we would lose subscribers. They didn't buy it, but sure enough, that's the way it was.
Web site design is very overlooked, but it's very, very important.
Q. What makes for a good design?
I don't really know. But I looked at the site we designed ourselves, and it was sloppy. So I had someone else do it, and almost overnight they turned it into art.