Liz Flynt: Front and Center at Hustler

Liz Flynt’s office is much, much smaller than the massive suite — right next door — from where her legendary husband ruled the Hustler-branded conglomerate of LFP companies right up to his passing last February.

Mrs. Flynt’s desk is tidy and organized, across the room from a boardroom-style table on which a banker’s box full of documents and mementos sits, labeled “L. Flynt.”

Behind Mrs. Flynt’s desk, a slightly larger-than-life framed portrait depicts her husband smiling, with her hugging him from behind and wrapping her arms protectively around his chest.

Mrs. Flynt sits under that painting every weekday, going over the laborious business of continuing her husband’s legacy and leading what she calls “a pretty big midsize company” — in fact several intertwined companies with a diversified, international portfolio.

The effect is slightly uncanny: department heads, management and others in the LFP staff who enter the opulent, dark wood-paneled office are faced with the very active Liz Flynt steering Hustler past the always tricky transition period, towered over by the image of the late founder and — still very much — the leader of the organization with Liz right behind him, as she steadily was from the early 1990s.

“We were always together, everywhere we went,” a cordial Mrs. Flynt tells XBIZ during an in-depth, no-conditions-requested interview in early July. “He was the main focus. I was the quiet one, the behind-the-scenes person. You never saw me.”

Mrs. Flynt is quite clearly still mourning, but at her core she is still that registered nurse, intimately familiar with the inevitabilities of life and death, who met her future husband, in her professional capacity, in 1992. She was given a job to do, a big one, and her experience and training are there to remind her, almost through emotional muscle memory, that in her state of sadness, she still has to keep it together.

Larry Claxton Flynt, Jr. — the quietly smiling man in the portrait — still looms large, as he did in life, over this interview, the entire Hustler operation, and his wife’s life and fortunes.

Throughout the interview, Liz Flynt alternates between calling the man in the portrait “my husband,” “Larry” and “Mr. Flynt” — the latter, the preferred mode of address. She also simply refers to “he” and “him” because there’s only one “he” in conversations about the present and future of Hustler. The verb tense when referring to him — as it is not uncommon in these kinds of successions — also alternates between the past and the present. He is, in so many ways, still here.

“The portfolio of our company is [marked by] growth, first of all,” Liz Flynt, soft-voiced yet firm, begins to reply when asked about the direction of the brand during the first crucial months after her husband’s passing.

Another remnant of him is reflected in her voice. Although she’s a proud Angelena — “born and raised,” she boasts with a smile — Liz Flynt has unconsciously adopted a tinge of the signature Southern drawl of the iconic man in the gilded wheelchair with whom she spent so many hours and years, in happiness and in care.

“My husband’s last wishes to me were, ‘If something should happen, Liz, I’d want you to continue with the growth of the company, and also as if I was here,’” she says. “So I’m running the company as if he was here — that’s our goal, that is exactly what we are doing, day to day.”

Hustler Moves Forward

Growth and adaptability are ingrained values at LFP. Starting in the mid-1990s, Larry Flynt secured his brand’s continued success by deliberately diversifying its portfolio.

The lesson was drilled into his successor. “Mr. Flynt was a very detailed businessman,” Liz Flynt explains, “and he always knew if one entity wasn’t doing well — or if it ever came a time we had to shut down Hustler [Magazine] because there were no more profits — there was no emotion tied to it. Because it’s all about business first.”

Although Mr. Flynt always recognized that the magazine was “what started the growth of the company, the brand,” she continued, “early on in the ’90s, my husband knew that publishing wasn’t going to last forever and he started to diversify right away: from publishing he went into video, internet, broadcast, gaming, retail and ecommerce.”

Like his two adult magazine competitors, her husband ventured into licensing — the Larry Flynt/Hustler names, for example, are licensed to Harry Mohney’s Deja Vu for a national chain of gentlemen’s clubs, although the flagship Larry Flynt’s Hustler Clubs in Las Vegas and New Orleans are partnerships with more LFP involvement.

Liz Flynt

But licensing only offers limited growth and was perhaps too passive of a business for the always enterprising, entrepreneurially irrepressible Mr. Flynt. Thus the scandalous magazine begat a profitable national chain of retail stores — 36 to date and counting — as well as a video production arm, licensing outfit, broadcast division, and a lucrative gaming operation with two California card rooms.

“The Hustler brand conveys growth and strength,” Liz Flynt emphasizes during the interview. “And [we’re] moving forward with a collaborative team of upper management employees, hand-picked by my husband, working very close together. Larry left me as sole trustee. It’s a lot of responsibility,” she says. “He handpicked his whole upper management team and I feel I’m in good hands, [with the] team of lawyers that we have [and] my advisors.”

Paul Cambria, she adds — Mr. Flynt’s longtime lawyer and a noted First Amendment warrior — “is always the first one I call.”

With only a few months at the helm, Mrs. Flynt is facing what she says is currently her “biggest challenge.”

“Few people know this, but my husband had a third gaming license in California, so we are moving forward with that license and hopefully the city of Cudahy [in Southern California] will allow us to put up our card room,” she explains.

When Larry Flynt passed, she adds, “they extended my husband’s license until November and I was awarded an interim license. He already named the third one. It was going to be called ‘Larry Flynt’s Hacienda.’”

But the process now requires Liz Flynt to obtain a gaming license in her own name, “and that’s what I’m doing right now,” she says, explaining that by the time this interview is published, she will have had to pass a formal interview with the gaming commission of California in Sacramento for the license.

“That’s huge,” she says, in respect to a current moratorium on gaming licenses. “As long as I can get through that, that can afford me to expand in gaming. So right now, we own some land in Cudahy and we’re buying more parcels, because to put up a casino you need land! You need acres — as I saw when my husband built the Hustler Casino from the ground up. It’s a lot.”

“I’m applying on my own,” she says, proudly. “The Department of Justice is investigating me, not Larry. Me. So, this is a big one. When Larry was applying for a gaming license, we operated on a temporary license for three years. With me, we’re moving a little faster,” she smiles. “I’m more boring than Larry — he was more colorful.”

A Lasting Partnership

But before she met her life partner, nobody would have referred to Liz Flynt’s demanding life as a healthcare provider as “boring.” In 1992, Elizabeth Berrios was an R.N. with a high-stakes job in a top Los Angeles university hospital that put her in the middle of life-or-death decisions around the clock.

“I’m a registered nurse by trade,” she tells XBIZ. “I met my husband in 1992 because a friend asked me if I could help [Flynt] one day a week. I didn’t even know who Larry Flynt was! When I met Larry and I came to work with him one day a week, I thought he was a nice man. It was at least two years before he asked me out.”

The perennially curious Flynt “always wanted to know all about what I did at [the] UCLA [hospital],” she says. “I enjoyed working there and he loved all the stories. I worked in coronary care, and the majority of our patients were cardiomyopathy patients in end-stage heart failure, waiting for heart transplants.”

Liz used to tell her celebrity patient “how exciting it was when somebody got a heart.”

“You see that a lot,” she explains, becoming livelier when describing her past life as a frontline healthcare worker. “Very few and far between get hearts. They put you on a list and there’s a process that you go through, and the majority of these patients don’t make it because they have to wait on these [accidents] — Fourth of July, Memorial Day, New Year’s, all these big holidays because that’s when these accidents [tend to] happen.”

“Larry liked my stories,” she adds, “about the people I worked with, different things, procedures, drugs that were then experimental that are now everyday. I used to share with him all these things, because UCLA was a teaching hospital.”

After being shot and paralyzed by a would-be assassin — much later revealed as racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin — in Georgia in 1978, Flynt had had an extremely difficult time with his medical care for many years, a process that had both wrecked his personal and professional life and made him behave erratically for several years, a slow-motion tragedy that played out entirely in the public eye.

“Larry was a manic-depressive,” Liz Flynt explains, but by the time she met him, he had already managed “to find a doctor, a psychiatrist that took really good care of him and he was on medication to keep him at a [steady level]. It worked for him. Being on lithium maintained him, where he was able to go to work and take care of his business and as everybody saw, he was pretty even-keeled.”

Between 1986 and 1988, Flynt finally managed to be able to enjoy his life in California, free of the destructive mood changes that had plagued him and his projects during the health mismanagement years. The hectic post-assassination attempt/per-lithium period is currently being spotlighted by a new documentary, “Larry Flynt for President,” which he saw last year.

He “did not care” to be reminded of that era, noted Mrs. Flynt.

“He told me that [after the shooting] he had moved to Palm Beach [Florida] first and he said he didn’t like living there because of the weather. The climate was too humid,” she says. “He moved here to Be Air and the company headquarters were in the Century City Towers, and then from there he moved to Beverly Hills and then in 1994, he bought this building.”

By the time Flynt purchased the iconic LIP tower, the oblong glass building at the intersection of Wildfire and La Carnegie, Liz Berrios had gone from part-time nurse to becoming an integral part of his life.

Mrs. Flynt shows a small photo of herself that her husband kept right behind him at his work desk for almost 30 years. It is still in its place, as is everything in the vast office space that Larry Flynt designed for himself, down to the carpet pattern, and from where he ruled his empire.

“That was taken around 1992,” Liz Flynt says, reminiscing about their early years together. “That photo was [taken] at UCLA by one of my nursing friends who enjoyed photography. When I showed it to Larry, he said, ‘Can I have that?’ and ever since, it’s been at his office.”

When the office re-opened after Larry Flynt’s passing and after the easing of COVID restrictions, Liz Flynt decided to leave the doors to her husband’s inner sanctum open for staff.

“We keep his office open every day while we’re here because I want people to feel comfortable,” she says.

Vision and Legacy

If growth and diversification are the corporate goals, for Liz Flynt, the brand’s success is evidenced by the patrons of Hustler casinos, the shoppers at Hustler Hollywood stores, Hustler magazine subscribers, and also the general populace that saw the 1996 biopic “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and sought out the brand.

“Hustler,” she begins, “should convey Mr. Flynt’s vision and legacy. My husband was well known for his fight — going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — expanding the parameters of free speech. When he won that court case, Flynt v. Falwell, he made parody protected speech. Now, people like Bill Maher and Jimmy Kimmel and all the others who are able to get up and have that liberty to say what they want and not be sued for hurting anyone’s feelings — my husband was able to make that a reality. He won that case and had the Chief Justice write the majority opinion.”

“Through the years before my husband died, I always asked him ‘Larry,’ I said, ‘how would you like people to remember you? What is the most important thing? And he would always say ‘Liz, I would always want people to remember me for ‘expanding the parameters of free speech.’”

That quote, Mrs. Flynt says, “is going up on his crypt, where he’s buried at Forest Lawn Glendale in the Great Mausoleum and Sanctuary of Meditation. It is being prepared right now.”

The epitaph brings up a trip the Flynts took to Independence Mall in Philadelphia, where a “digital tree” memorializes people who have had “a profound effect on the Constitution.”

“We went one year, I think it was 2012, and it was astounding because here my husband and I are looking at a little bio that says why he’s on there, which is going to the Supreme Court and winning that famous case.”

Today, Mrs. Flynt continues her husband’s legacy in defense of free speech through the traditionally barbed “Publisher’s Statements” that have prefaced every issue of Hustler since its inception.

“My husband held politicians accountable and we are continuing that,” she says in reference to her first two Publisher’s Statements. “I continue to watch all those shows that he watched, and read, so it’s important to continue [advocating] how he felt about issues going on. We always come up with certain subjects and ask, ‘So, how would Mr. Flynt feel about this?’ and we put our ideas and thoughts together.”

Another major way in which Mrs. Flynt is planning to honor and expand on her husband’s intellectual legacy is through a new book to be sold at Hustler Hollywood stores nationwide starting in late July.

“Around 2014, I put together a book — it was self-published and leather-bound,” she says. “Only a few copies of that volume, ‘Freedom, My Legacy: A Collection of Quotes by Larry Flynt, American Outcast and First Amendment Champion,’ were made for friends, colleagues and LFP staffers.

“Here’s how it started out,” she explains. “My husband always had a saying for something. And I said ‘Larry, you always have something to say, or a good quote, you need to put that in writing.’”

According to Mrs. Flynt, it took three years to collect her husband’s quotes and arrange them into chapters, as he was always preoccupied with running the company.

“After everything was compiled and put together, I had two copy editors proof it, I had my husband proof it and then right before we were going to go publish this book he says ‘I have to add one more thing’ and on the first page he put in ‘A special thanks to my wife Liz, for making this book of quotes a reality.’”

The quotes, Liz Flynt says, are a compendium of her husband’s well-documented, lifelong interests and obsessions: “sex, politics, the Constitution, his life growing up, fame and success, abortion, AIDS, civil rights, privacy, drugs and alcohol, Hustler magazine, love, life, men and women, obscenity, war, people, society, pornography, pleasure, government…”

On the back of the book, she says, she compiled several of her favorite sayings from her husband, like:

“Freedom of the press is only important if it protects the right to be offensive.” “Sure, they call me a smut peddler, but that doesn’t bother me because I’m a smut peddler who cares. I care about our judicial system, I care about our political process, and I love this country.”

“The First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy. It gets its vitality and meaning from the unrestricted right of free choice.”

“We must profit from other people’s mistakes, because we can’t live long enough to make all of them ourselves.”

“Freedom of speech is not for the idea you love but for the idea you hate most.”

“If something’s not worth going to jail for, it’s not worth very much.”

“If I can leave any kind of legacy at all, it will be that I helped expand the parameters of free speech.”

The book’s back cover summarizes Larry Flynt’s life in a short biographical blurb titled “My Legacy.” Not coincidentally, the statement is printed below a photo of Larry and Liz Flynt in their favorite photo pose: he is sitting, presidential, in a grey suit and red tie; she is in a matching red dress behind him, peering over his shoulder. It reads: “From the backwoods of Kentucky to Beverly Hills, Larry Flynt overcame poverty to build a successful global Hustler empire, through sheer determination, savvy and hard work. He fought countless legal battles, exposed political hypocrisy and social injustices, survived an assassination attempt and championed the First Amendment all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Doing her research for the book Liz Flynt says, “I got to really understand what was important to my husband, how passionate he was about certain subjects — whether they be civil rights or free press, or life, love, First Amendment. So now that I reflect on that, I’m so glad I did that then, because it would be impossible for me to do it now.”

Liz Flynt also sees her late husband as both “a renaissance man” and “a real wounded warrior.”

“Larry was shot, paralyzed, and after that,” she explains, “when he knew that he would be in a wheelchair for life, he thought, ‘well, since I’m not able to walk, I’m just going to have to work with this [his head] and continue the fight.’ And that’s what he did.”

“I think Larry was a very compassionate, loving man,” she continues. “He cared about so many different things. For example, AIDS and how people had it wrong from the beginning, how growing up poor had really affected his mind, and how he just wanted to get out of poverty in Kentucky and really make something of his life. He ran away — at 15, he falsified his birth certificate and went into the army and the navy.”

“He also thought a lot of people were hypocrites, and he hated hypocrites,” she chuckles.

Ultimately, the book will also hopefully reach another generation of would-be “hustlers.”

“When my husband and I would go out to a Lakers game or the casino — and there’s many different generations playing cards — all the young guys just loved Larry. They’re all in touch with what Larry does, either the clubs or Hustler magazine or the stores, and they can still identify with Larry. The book will be another way to keep that going forward.”

The Legacy of a ‘Renaissance Man’

The conversation with Liz Flynt is peppered with visions of Larry Flynt beyond his manic period (that famous “Fuck This Court” T-shirt) or the publicity-grabbing stunts that he loved since back when he was a barely-legal owner of working-class taverns in Ohio.

Like the Larry Flynt who loved to watch movies. “He liked Clint Eastwood, he liked ‘Casablanca,’” Mrs. Flynt reveals. “He enjoyed Jack Nicholson.”

Or Larry Flynt, the “renaissance man,” who collected a voluminous range of rare Art Deco and Art Nouveau pieces (he was partial to small sculptures by Erté) and spent much of his limited free time perusing auction catalogs.

“When I met him,” Liz Flynt says, “he said ‘Are you ready to see the world?’ and I said ‘yes.’ He said ‘Are you ready to travel?’ and I said ‘I’m looking forward to it.’ I mean, we went all over. It was a lot of fun. It was very interesting how Larry saw art and how he picked up art and how he bought these pieces.”

“We went to many, many auctions. He would know in advance what would be displayed. We also went to big warehouses where people house their antiques and then he would go and buy.”

The collecting was not mere art hoarding. The offices of LFP double as an art gallery showcasing the Hustler founder’s peculiar taste. “He was always planning to put them somewhere like this,” Mrs. Flynt says. “At one point, he did have an art gallery called Flynt’s Antique and Gifts. It was on Melrose, and then when he bought the building he knew he would have a permanent place to display his collection.”

Flynt’s eclectic taste made for unusual juxtapositions. For example, he was a big fan of the French Riviera opulence of the legendary Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco and also of Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, so both elements ended up combined in the decor of his Gardena, California card rooms.

“He would travel to Monte Carlo and would say ‘I love that style,’” Liz Flynt explains. “He loved the chandeliers in the casino, so he ordered some from Italy for here — we call them the dripping chandeliers, because they look like they’re dripping. So beautiful. And then he would order a lot of the reproductions of Gustav Klimt’s works. He knew art.”

‘You Have to Be Open-Minded’

The issue of Larry Flynt’s unique aesthetics brings up a question that surely complicates Hustler’s approach to continuing on as “he would have wanted.” At what point does running a company centered around the tastes of a man who passed at age 78 become anachronistic?

Liz Flynt is not worried. “How my husband taught me, it’s not to make cookie-cutter decisions,” she explains. “You have to be open-minded. Once in a while — not all the time, but once in a while — he would allow somebody with tattoos because he felt it was another form of art. He would say: ‘Once in a while, you’ll know it when you see it.’ So, I’m not a closed-minded person. Also, you have to change with the times a little bit. Through the years, I saw how he was doing things. It was never that cookie-cutter thing of ‘all blondes, or all brunettes.’ Now, we have to have a little blend of everybody. That’s what life is all about.”

Even one of her favorite magazines, Town & Country, she explains, “changed their whole format: they are more [about] the millennials. They’re not about the vintage, or about style in New York or Palm Beach. It’s a whole different thing. It’s OK. If you’re in business for one thing — and that should be pursuing profit — you’re going to change. You have to have that open-minded way of looking.”

On the other hand, some of Larry Flynt’s 1970s-vintage notions for Hustler will not be changing if subscribers keep enjoying them.

“I mean, ‘Hustler Humor’!” she laughs. “He really loved those cartoons. He’d say ‘If I don’t get it, my subscribers are not going to get it.’

One very central way in which Hustler as a brand will not change is its perennial commitment to appealing to what Liz Flynt refers to as “Middle America.”

The boardroom map displaying their 36 retail stores shows many locations in “Red” (even “Bible Belt”) states or counties, and the two forthcoming California stores in Riverside and Orange County are also in relatively conservative areas.

“We’ve always done good business with Middle America,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of people who are sexually repressed, but maybe they’re closeted…” she trails off, trying to find the right adjective for a certain kind of potential customer. “I mean, look at Jerry Falwell’s son, wow. He, I mean Jerry Falwell Sr., must be turning over in his grave for what his son has done to his legacy.”

But isn’t a religious conservative caught mid-hanky-panky going to blame Hustler and porn or any other form of sexual expression as “temptation?”

“Well, if he does, he’s wrong,” she says, once again channeling her husband’s zeal and debating mannerisms. “He wasn’t being tempted. [Falwell’s son] wanted to do it and then he goes on his boat with these people and drinking and dressing the way he did and acting like, you know, out of control, and his wife too. Wow. I’m just shocked. Larry got to see it. He was not surprised. It just typifies those people — say one thing, do another thing.”

So social conservatives and “closeted” religious people are also part of the big tent that makes up the Hustler stores’ customer base?

“They can be,” she says. “Look — we have a store in Boise, Idaho and as soon as it opened, right off the bat, it’s a profitable store. It usually takes a year, a year and a half, maybe two to become profitable. And that store is a great store. Now, if you would have told people ‘Boise, Idaho’….”

Each time the company decides to open another Hustler Hollywood, they do their due diligence in terms of possible conflict with suspicious or self-appointed moralistic city authorities wielding zoning permits as censorship weapons.

“We never open up without getting cleared for zoning first,” she says. “We don’t even apply for a permit before we know the zoning has been cleared first.”

Upending the whole “Red/Blue” stereotype about openness to adult boutiques, Liz Flynt provides a contrasting scenario to the company’s seemingly unlikely Boise success story.

“Here’s a good example: Pasadena [in supposedly liberal Southern California]. We were rejected a couple of years ago. Recently I told [Hustler VP of Retail] Philip [Del Rio], ‘Where’s Pasadena right now? Let’s try and see if we can overturn that one.’ So, he went back and we’re going to try and go in with a different approach: more lingerie, less product [i.e., pleasure products], and we’re looking at some property on Lake now, right by the Mendocino Farms.”

A Diversified Empire

Although the magazine is still profitable and keeps Flynt’s political causes alive, and with the retail operation and the gaming providing most of the growth, Hustler also can count on other smaller revenue streams in the form of content monetization and broadcasting.

“DVDs don’t sell that well anymore because there’s so much free content online,” Mrs. Flynt explains, “but broadcast is doing great.”

Hustler is also trying to get into streaming. “We are getting ready to launch through Roku,” she says. “We did a soft launch, but we found some bumps on the road, so we pulled back and we’re going to fix those and try again.”

The delay in adopting a new streaming platform might be chalked up to the unlikely success of Hustler’s pay-per-view broadcasting business.

“We are so busy with all the countries that we’re in, with Sapphire Media and our business in Amsterdam. They cover South America, Mexico and all the Eastern Bloc countries, including Russia. Tony Cochi oversees that whole entity.”

“Broadcasting, believe it or not, is still showing profit. We are in hotels, we partner with Comcast and quite a few others,” she says.

“Middle America” is again her answer to the expected question: “Who are all these people who can’t find adult content on their laptops and are still watching PPV?”

“It’s a hotel thing. When Mr. Flynt and I used to go to Vegas, we used to see our channel at the Venetian. Many people are actually watching it. I think it’s that different generation too, or also that gentleman that’s on a business trip and not home. When people are traveling, it’s always different than at home, right?”

Wearing a Different Pair of Shoes

Speaking of traveling, Liz Flynt’s oversight role over the whole organization keeps her literally up in the air, even through the pandemic.

“Last week, in 24 hours, I went to Chicago and Philadelphia to look at some properties, and then New York to see our store there,” she says.

Asked if she did that on the company’s private jet, she nods naturally, without affecting unnecessary humility, revealing that a scale model of the plane is displayed in Larry Flynt’s office.

“Actually, it’s a new one,” she corrects. “He just bought it last August. It’s a G-550. Believe it or not, he bought it from Disney. It’s only a couple of years old. He only got to ride it once, because we obviously were not traveling through the virus. We used it in October 2020 and then the virus got real bad in December and then…” She trails off. Silence. The happy couple in the portrait above her still smiles, frozen in time.

Did she ever anticipate this day, sitting at the LFP executive desk, answering these questions?

“No, I never thought… No, no. That was never on my mind,” she says, quiet but resolute, a tone that people in the industry might soon start recognizing as the Liz Flynt trademark style.

“What was always on my mind was my husband, his health. It’s all that mattered. We were married 23 and a half years, together 30. It’s very sad for me, you know. I miss him every day and I wish he never got sick and passed away. It’s a big loss. Not only for me, but the entire company.

“I definitely have my plate full. I never take anything for granted. I am open-minded and I am a listener. I have to be a good listener to everyone,” she adds. “I always keep Larry in mind. I always ask myself, ‘How would Larry handle this? What would Larry say?’”

She gives the answer, learned from three decades behind that gilded wheelchair, the constant memorial of the price of freedom: “Never be quick to judge, and never be quick to say something, but always think everything out, with caution.”

“I’m wearing a different pair of shoes today than I was before my husband passed away,” she concludes. “I go to see him twice a week, it’s my therapy. It’s hard for me — I’m not going to say it’s not. I have my days when I feel really alone and sad, and then I tell myself there’s always a reason [for] this enormous amount of responsibility. It’s also a good distraction. It keeps me busy, focused on the business.”

“But it’s not easy,” she adds, as the interview wraps and she returns to the myriad obligations that come with being Mrs. Flynt, steward and sole trustee of a great man’s legacy.

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