Anyone claiming the title of degenerate, even playfully, has to acknowledge a kinship with Larry Flynt. His association with skin mags, strip clubs, and a card barn in Los Angeles is unapologetically in your face.
The brand name for all of those ventures was “Hustler”. And that name, rather than degenerate, is more appropriate for the man, if not as obvious.
Larry Flynt grew up in A Kentucky county that was one of the poorest in the nation. He faked a birth certificate to join the US Army at 15, took a job with GM after an honorable discharge, and then signed up with the US Navy after a labor slowdown at his site.
He bought his mother’s bar, “Keewee” in Dayon, Ohio, for cash, popped amphetamines to work hours on end there, and managed to take ownership of two more bars. He ran a vending machine business (a money loser, he closed that up), and then hit his stride with the “Hustler Club” featuring nude dancers. He opened five more clubs in Ohio. Along the way he bought a newspaper “Bachelor’s Beat”, an initial entry into publishing.
Flynt had a flair for promotion and irreverent attitude to social norms. He started a newsletter to promote his clubs, and when the ’73 oil crisis nearly bankrupted his clubs, he put everything into expanding his newsletter as a nationwide skin magazine with the “Hustler” title.
It was nude pictures of Jackie Kennedy Onassis that brought that fledgling publication notoriety, attention, and most importantly, sales. That episode also included a bit of the hypocrisy Flynt resented over the course of his life. Publicly, Jackie O fumed and asked her husband to sue publishers of the photos. Privately, she signed a copy of one picture for Andy Warhol.
Flynt took pop-shots at comstockery figures such as Jerry Falwell, and battled in court to do so. A Supreme Court decision protecting parody features the magazine name.
His willingness to outrage led him to publish purposefully provocative images. From the 1978 cover depicting a woman passed through a food mill (lampooning criticisms that his magazine treated women like meat) to as recent as a 2017 cover featuring a model wearing an American flag as a (rather poorly concealing) hijab, Flynt loved thumbing his nose at critics and hypocrites.
A racist, unhappy with Flynt’s publishing nude pictorials of interracial couples, shot him and cost Flynt mobility for the rest of his life.
But not his hustle. That never went away.
That shooting happened in 1978. Flynt did not open the Hustler Card Room in California until 2000. At the time of his death it was the most profitable part of his business portfolio.
Flynt was certainly a degenerate. He knew you were, too, most likely. He’d happily take your money if you admitted it, laugh at you for suggesting you were above it, and fight you in court if you tried to stop him from doing either of those things. Hustler, indeed.