For those who don’t know, I am referring to the strip joint owner, turned Hustler magazine CEO, turned Christian, turned paraplegic, turned atheist, turned free speech activist. That Larry Flynt!
On a languid Saturday evening not long ago, I found myself camped out on the worn shag carpet of my living floor with a cup of tea and a receptive remote control. I didn’t expect my channel surfing to end with me washed up in tears over a little film known as The People vs. Larry Flynt. The movie documents the life and times of Hustler magazine founder, Larry Flynt, played by Woody Harrelson, and his late wife Althea Flynt, played by 90s grunge goddess Courtney Love.
The strangely moving story followed Flynt’s rise to millionaire from the raving success of Hustler magazine, to his short episode as a faithful Christian, to the plummeting of his faith after being gunned down by a Nazi-sympathizing anti-pornography sniper in Georgia, to the loss of his beloved Althea to AIDS in the late 80s.
To top off these unfortunate series of events, Flynt spent more time in courtrooms than Carrie Bradshaw spent in Jimmy Choos! He endured a slew of legal bouts throughout his career with various anti-pornography groups that probably just weren’t getting any. In addition, Flynt served a six month stint in a diabolical state psychiatric penitentiary after “desecrating” the American flag, when he decided to wear it as a human diaper to one of many hearings.
You might assume that the man may be short a screw or two compliments of his unusual track record and you’d probably be right, but can you blame him?
The road to fortune and fame is known for not being as sweet as it appears. On the contrary, it’s downright saccharine! But in his most pivotal case yet, Hustler vs. Jerry Falwell, Flynt proved that there is light at the end of the star studded dignitary tunnel.
After being sued by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell over an ad parody published in Hustler magazine suggesting Falwell lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse, the case climbed its way up the proverbial ladder of justice to the Supreme Court. Much to the surprise of many, Flynt won, saving us all from free speech purgatory. The decision cited that “public figures cannot recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress” based on parodies. Had favor gone to Falwell, our nation’s free speech rights would have been as deflated as the late Barbara Hutton’s notorious bank accounts!
Thus began Larry’s calling as a free speech advocate, both as a public speaker and a writer. You can imagine my sheer delight upon hearing that Mr. Flynt would be visiting our green city—Tacoma, that is—for a book signing at one of the coveted Hustler boutiques.
The day of his visit, my stomach was in kumquat-sized knots. To ease my anxiety, I had a friend accompany me. He drove. I hyperventilated.
Mind you, these weren’t star struck nerves, but nerves of admiration, respect, wonder and amazement. This man had single-handedly lived one of the fullest lives I could’ve ever imagined and he wasn’t dead yet! He had succeeded at branding one of the most controversial magazines in America, was almost assassinated because of it, stumped the Supreme Court with one of the most pivotal issues of justice our land has ever seen, and plenty more, but I’ll spare you the heroic details.
I was in awe of him. In my mind, he might as well be a modern day MLK or Mother Theresa. One might say he lacked the humanitarian orientation of the two, but he was terribly courageous nonetheless.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Hustler boutique in Tacoma, already an hour late, I expected to be greeted by a packed lot but was surprised to find it nearly empty. I desperately tried to assemble my scattered thoughts as I scrambled for my notepad and DSLR camera.
Once my toe graced the pavement, every bit of legible information that had ever resided in my brain was misplaced.I no longer remembered what I wanted to say, let alone do. After entering the boutique, I was shocked to see a large space decorated with nicely showcased sex memorabilia.
To my left was an assortment of naughty toys, posters, and costumes, all displaying the coveted Hustler logo, and to my right, the dirty video section where my friend abandoned me to go explore. In the midst of my unfettered admiration, I had forgotten what I would be walking into. I imagined the Hustler shop to resemble that of a newsstand, displaying quaintly packaged Hustler magazines with the occasional monogrammed coffee mug, not a sex super store!
My eyes further scanned the room and landed on a frail Larry and his iconic gold plated wheelchair. At that moment, reality ceased to exist. For all I knew, I had crash landed in limbo and was pleasantly perched atop a downy cumulus cloud. I giddily pranced around the left side of the store, while Larry took pictures with eager Hustler girls and tastefully dressed strippers—I presumed it was before business hours.
Immediately, I felt out of place. I was out of place. These women were gorgeous, six foot tall, scantily clad Amazonian queens pining for Larry’s attention and he graciously ate it up with smiles and stiff chuckles. But what did I expect? Flynt was the king of porn and these women came prepared to show off their best assets because of it. I, on the other hand, desired to know this man, to pick his brain and grasp the matter that had allowed him to fight so fervently for an idea and the feigned weight it had left him physiologically.
Aside from a peek of cleavage, I was fully dressed, gripping a notepad, pencil and camera bag like a dread headed Barbara Walters. As I took notice of such a disparity, everyone else’s eyes seemed to float my way in confusion. My awkward attendance was like a stench in the air. Shit! This was not the day to leave home without my black knee high boots and plaid school girl mini skirt.
My supportive attendee signaled me from the opposite part of the store to let me know that Larry was being wheeled away. Oh no! Had I lost my moment? As his bodyguard wheeled him beside me and the gummy lingerie, I kindly asked,
“Larry, may I have a moment before you go?”
The frail publicist behind the bodyguard replied,
“In a second, sweetie, he’s touring the store.”
Although it wasn’t complete rejection, it felt like it. I waited patiently as Larry wrapped up his tour, and noticed his team packing away his belongings. Suddenly, he was being escorted to the front door. My heartbeat was palpable. Was this my chance? Should I run and stop him? His publicist—my new best friend—came to my aid and softly uttered,
“Larry, before you go, I believe you have one more fan waiting!”
At Larry’s request, his bodyguard made a U-turn and wheeled Larry towards me. My mind drifted into a mild state of hypnosis and I felt as if I had lost my ability to take in air. I realized I had stopped breathing. I took a breath. Larry was directly adjacent from me.
“Hello Larry, it’s a pleasure to meet you!” He shook my hand.
“I just want to tell you how thankful I am for you and all you’ve accomplished in your life. It has empowered me more than you know.”
As my eyes fervently poured into his, he stared beyond me, disengaged. I had no other words. I could sense his obvious distance, despite his genuine attempt to appear sincere. I assumed it had been a long day and the faces had begun to blur. I didn’t ask for an autograph or a photograph, although I was fully equipped with the materials to do so. After my confession, he smiled a slightly crooked smile and rolled away.
That was it. That was my moment! Could I have said more? I didn’t believe so. I concluded that I said all that I needed to and although it appeared he didn’t hear a word, I believe he had. That crooked smile may have seemed harsh, but it was as sweet as apple pie.
Shortly after the riveting ordeal, I realized it wasn’t so much about meeting Larry as it was about hearing his story. Although I hadn’t heard it directly from him that fated day at the Tacoma Hustler boutique, the knowledge I did have left the ultimate lasting impression, deeper than our brief encounter ever could’ve, although it wasn’t far from incredible. As I thought about it, it was his astounding legacy that helped build the man—and that’s what I had and what I’d hold on to.
Abiola Akanni is a New Age Christian and Creative Interpreter, who seeks to inspire generations through spiritual awareness and artistic individualism. She is a Nigerian American entrepreneur and media visionary, who has long been a force of fiery in the creative field as a sustainable vintage curator and stylist. She is a seasoned yogi and editor, who founded the lifestyle blog and “Girls Guide,” Bora Bora Style in response to the sluggish economy and the matters young women continue to face while trying to co-exist within it. In addition to expanding artistic perceptions, this peppery young star hopes to ignite every heart and fill it with truth, power and love a story at a time.
Editor: Malin Bergman