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Dennis Hof, the brothel kingpin and reality TV star who was running for Nevada Assembly, is found dead

Dennis Hof, the brothel kingpin and reality TV star who was running for Nevada Assembly, is found dead
Dennis Hof was a Republican candidate for the Nevada Assembly. (David Montero / Los Angeles Times)

Dennis Hof, the flamboyant pimp, reality television star and Republican nominee who was expected to win a seat in the Nevada Assembly next month, was found dead at his Nye County, Nev., brothel Tuesday morning by a male porn star, authorities said.

He was 72.

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It was a startling turn of events coming less than one month before the November election. Hof was poised to be the first brothel owner elected to the Nevada Legislature in the modern era and begin another chapter in his colorful, high-profile life.

“I was really looking forward to seeing what he would stir up in the capital,” campaign manager Chuck Muth said. “It would’ve really been something.”

Hof had celebrated his birthday over the weekend — a two-day affair at his brothel in northern Nevada before heading to Pahrump on Monday for a campaign event. Two controversial figures from the right — former Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist — spoke at the event.

Arpaio, who had just arrived in Phoenix on Tuesday afternoon, said he was shocked to find out Hof was dead.

“After I spoke, I said good night to him at his table and went up to my room. That was the last time I saw him,” he said in an interview. “I’ve done thousands of speaking engagements and never had anything like this happen before. It’s very sad.”

Nye County spokesman Arnold Knightly said Hof’s death was announced during the County Commission meeting by Chairman John Koenig, who told the room that Hof “went to sleep last night and didn’t wake up this morning.”

Muth said Hof was found by Ron Jeremy, the porn star who was a close friend of the brothel owner and had earned an entire chapter in Hof’s book, “The Art of the Pimp.”

Hof’s eyes “were not full” and his skin felt cold, Jeremy told the Associated Press. “He was totally stiff. And I’m saying, ‘Honey, we really have a problem here.’”

The two had a such a close rapport that Hof jokingly referred to Jeremy as “she” and the porn star called Hof “daddy,” according to the book.

Detectives and deputies were at the Love Ranch brothel in Crystal, outside Pahrump, on Tuesday investigating the death. Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg said Nye County had requested an autopsy.

Hof garnered national attention in June by unseating a three-term incumbent in his overwhelmingly Republican rural district. He billed himself as the “Trump of Pahrump.”

Even though Hof was the favorite to win in November, some establishment Republicans refused to campaign with him. Neither Nevada Atty. Gen. Adam Laxalt, the GOP nominee for governor, nor Republican Sen. Dean Heller would endorse him.

But Hof refused to let that bother him and began running ads featuring the names of Laxalt, Heller and Hof on mobile billboards.

He also faced scrutiny over allegations of sexual assault, including an ongoing state investigation of a claim that was made against him by a woman over Labor Day weekend.

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Hof never appeared bothered by controversy, and often seemed to embrace it. He referred to himself as a pimp, showed up at events with women from his brothel and would often hand out merchandise — including coffee mugs with dollar bills that featured his face on them.

He scrapped with county government officials, who twice shut down his Love Ranch brothel — one of several he owned — over violations ranging from improper construction on the site to paying his license fees late. But Hof prevailed in both instances and the Love Ranch reopened.

He also was known to host celebrities at his properties, often going to lengths to protect their identities. Sometimes, however, things got away from him.

In 2015, former Lakers player Lamar Odom was found unconscious at the Love Ranch after ingesting cocaine and numerous doses of a medication for erectile dysfunction. He recovered.

The reality television show “Cathouse,” which debuted on HBO in 2005, was a no-holds-barred romp that featured Hof partying with his girls and making sure customers were getting their money’s worth.

But eventually, politics beckoned.

In 2016, he ran as a Libertarian candidate for the state Assembly seat that spans three rural counties — Nye, Lincoln and a small piece of Clark — and lost to the Republican, James Oscarson.

This year, he took on Oscarson directly — challenging the GOP incumbent while hewing closely to President Trump in tone, style and substance. On the night of the primary, Hof sat mostly in the back of the Nye County Republican headquarters as returns came in. He was accompanied by former madam Heidi Fleiss.

He won handily.

Oscarson said Tuesday he was shocked by the news of Hof’s death.

“My condolences and thoughts go out to his family,” he said. “I want to give his family time to grieve.”

Fleiss, who was at the Love Ranch on Tuesday, seemed shaken by his death. Outside the brothel, a small group of news trucks was parked in the dirt and gravel lot. Muth stood outside and spoke with reporters. He said several of the working girls were grieving. The brothel was closed Tuesday, and because its licenses were issued specifically to Hof, it’s unclear when or if it can reopen.

Christina Parreira, a sex worker who met Hof five years ago, choked up as she talked about him. She said she came from Connecticut to study sex workers as part of a sociology degree and wanted to interview women who worked at brothels.

Hof was the only brothel owner who would meet with her, she said.

“I had seen his television show and I’ll admit at first I was a little starstruck,” she said. “He puts on this image, but as a person, he was one of the kindest, sweetest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”

In a statement, Gov. Brian Sandoval offered condolences.

Wayne Thorley, a spokesman for the Nevada secretary of state, said Hof’s name would remain on the ballot and, if he were to win, the three county commissions that make up the Assembly seat would convene and select someone to fill the vacancy.

He said this happened in Nevada just a few weeks ago, when a candidate for the Independent American Party running for a state Senate seat died.

But Hof was much bigger, with name recognition that went well beyond Nevada.

Hof, who was born in Arizona to parents who immigrated from Germany and Italy, seemed to always know he wanted to be a businessman. In his book, he reflected on his childhood and how it led him to where he was in Nevada.

“At age 10, I started working at the local Dairy Queen, sweeping the parking lot, and the manager told me I was the best parking lot sweeper he’d ever seen,” Hof wrote. “I put most of my money into pinball machines and that’s when I first became aware of the connection between money and pleasure: If you had money, you had a good time. If not, you didn’t.”

8:15 p.m.: The article was updated extensively with reaction to Hof’s death and details about the circumstances.

1:50 p.m.: The article was updated with additional information about Hof.

12:44 p.m.: The article was updated with Los Angeles Times staff reporting.

The article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.

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