Perhaps Magoffin County’s most infamous native died last week, with the passing of Larry Claxton Flynt at the age of 78 years old.
Flynt’s publicist reported that the Hustler founder, publisher and unconventional First Amendment rights activist passed away in his sleep on Wednesday, February 10, 2021, in Los Angeles, with his wife and daughter by his side, after a recent onset of a sudden illness.
While his legacy is massive, with an empire of publications, video, clubs and a cassino, Flynt came from a poor family in Lakeville.
Flynt was born to Larry Claxton Sr. and Edith Arnett Flynt on November 1, 1942, when his father, a decorated veteran, was fighting in Europe with the United States Army. He would be 3 years old by the time his father made it home from the war.
By most accounts, they were a poor family and knew hard times. When he was 9 years old his younger sister, Judy, died of leukemia at the age of 4. A year later, his parents divorced and he and his brother, Jimmy, who is six years younger than Larry, were displaced.
Jimmy told the Independent, “I ended up with a grandparent and Larry stayed with a family in Dixie. The opportunity to work was tough then and it’s tough now, so at 15 he forged his birth certificate and got into the Army and stayed there a while until they figured out about his age, then when he got old enough for Mom to sign for him, he went into the Navy and stayed four or five years. Both of us went into the military and both of us were honorably discharged.”
Larry worked for General Motors in Dayton, OH, after the military. Their mother was in the bar business and in 1965 Larry bought his mother’s bar, the Keewee, also in Dayton.
“The big thing then was dance clubs and go-go dancing,” Jimmy said. “Prior to strip clubs, you had go-go, which evolved into strip clubs.”
Larry expanded into a string of bars and clubs, and eventually broke into the publishing business.
“When we left Eastern Kentucky, all we wanted to do was to make money and have fun,” Jimmy said. “We realized after a while you could publish magazines of beautiful girls and make money. Larry was a leader in publishing and VHS. The business changed because of technology and the evolution of it.”
Jimmy said that even though Larry was seen as “making it,” Eastern Kentucky stayed close to his mind and his heart.
“We came from nothing and lived a life a lot of people dreamed about,” Jimmy said. “There was a lot of good, bad and ugly. Not everything’s been peaches and cream. Larry spent 44 years in a wheelchair and there was a period of a few years that were touch and go.”
After he was shot going into court for one of many cases against him regarding the legalities of his publishing content, in which he fought against using the defense of freedom of speech, Larry was paralyzed from the waist down.
Larry moved the Hustler operation from Ohio to California and Jimmy came back to Kentucky for a time.
“I made the decision to raise my children in the hills of Kentucky instead of the streets of LA,” Jimmy said. “I love the people in Eastern Kentucky, but the opportunities and life are a little different down there. I don’t think either one of us ever forgot about Eastern Kentucky.”
While Jimmy can’t remember much about his childhood in Magoffin County, he said Larry had more memories of the difficult and dysfunctional time, shaping how he made business and life decisions.
“He held the people and the hills of Eastern Kentucky close to his heart,” Jimmy said. “He built a cabin up Lakeville a few years ago and he always visited. He remembered the people always and had some fond memories there. As a child, you don’t know until you leave and find out there’s another world out there.”
Jimmy said the people in Magoffin knew a different side of Larry.
“You’ve got to remember the people of Eastern Kentucky only knew one side,” Jimmy said. “We left and made this money and made all this publicity, and there was a ‘Larry made it’ perspective, but to the people of the world, he was a different person. Larry educated himself well with the First Amendment. He pushed the boundaries of it for publishing and fought for those rights. A lot of people understood it, but the legal community saw a different side. Eastern Kentucky taught us from a young age, and we remembered the difficult days as a child. You don’t want to go back to that life, but you don’t want to forget it, either.”
Jimmy said they both were patriotic, with a love for American and Kentucky, which is something they took from their time growing up in Magoffin County.
“It’s an all-American-type community and that’s so different than where we ended up,” Jimmy said. “The fact that late in life he built a cabin in Magoffin shows his heart and mind were with the people of Magoffin and is evidence he didn’t forget about it.”
While Larry’s fourth wife, Althea, is buried at Lakeville, it is unclear where his final resting place will be, with COVID-19 restrictions in California making the process more difficult than normal. Arrangements are incomplete at press time.
“Most of our lives were lived out of Magoffin,” Jimmy said. “We ended up in the bar business, the publishing business, the go-go business, and so much more and all of the stories come together to make it a wild and crazy life.”