Missing Mr. Flynt: LFP Navigates New Era With Liz Flynt at Helm

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—When Larry Flynt died suddenly this February, he did not leave behind a once iconic adult brand on the decline, but a tightly run galaxy of wildly successful businesses staffed with skilled executives and overseen by a handpicked successor, Liz Flynt, his wife of many years and a close confidant.

A private company, LFP Inc. is under no obligation to divulge numbers related to business dealings, and in keeping with that right to privacy, Mr. Flynt cultivated a no-numbers philosophy within the company that exists to this day. But, in response to a query from AVN extended not long after Mr. Flynt’s passing, the company not only permitted me to speak with several top executives (and a longtime, irreplaceable advisor) over the course of a few weeks, it even set aside time for me to come to the Wilshire offices to interview Mrs. Flynt in person about what it has been like taking over a growing, multifaceted company after such a sudden and incalculable loss. It was a consideration she did not have to extend, especially since so little time had passed since the loss of her husband, but she did agree to meet, and to me, her willingness to submit herself to questions she had not previewed—which is something her husband also did—speaks volumes about her, the company she now runs, and the legacy of the man who built it.

That does not mean I was given the keys to the kingdom. I was not. LFP Inc. remains Fortress Flynt in many regards, and I believe that is precisely how its founder wanted it to remain forever. I know nearly as statistically little about the company now as I did before I spent hours talking to people, a testament to the loyalty and discipline Flynt successfully inculcated in his employees. When I reminded Mrs. Flynt that I would be speaking with the executives, she assured me they could say whatever they wanted, with one exception. “This is a private company,” she said. “We don't divulge numbers or financials. That's it. They all knew Larry well.”

Whether unencumbered by any pressure to divulge numbers or not, the executives I spoke with were all too willing to wax eloquent about working with Larry, as though doing so would help alleviate the grief they were still carrying. Working there, and especially working there in the hushed halls of 8484 Wilshire, the spirit of Larry Flynt remains a tangible force to be reckoned with for these people, who seemed to delight in being able to regale me with anecdotes about their peerless boss. This held particularly true for the man perhaps closest to Larry Flynt for the most years, his personal lawyer, advisor, and friend, Paul Cambria, who went over our allotted time to share his rare insights into an American original the likes of which we will not see again.


Mrs. Flynt 

“It’s a struggle for me every day,” said Liz Flynt as we began our interview in her small office, which is located immediately next to the expansive one her husband occupied for so many years, and which she has kept untouched. She was trying to find the perfect way to explain what she faces every day. “I always look at it like my husband is a larger-than-life figure, and I miss him every day. Some days I struggle, and some days… You know, I have an agenda. He left me with an enormous amount of responsibility, and as trustee, I'm in charge.”

Asked if she needs to take it one day at a time as a result, she nodded, “I am. I don't come in so early. I'm not here at 8:30 every morning like everybody else because I have responsibilities at home. I don't get here until maybe about 10:30 or 11, when I have meetings.” She paused, returning softly to her last thought. “It's a struggle for me every day. I miss my husband dearly. I mean, every time I speak of him, I tear up. It's not easy.”

I asked if Mr. Flynt was deeply involved in day-to-day operations. “One hundred percent,” she affirmed. “When he was in the hospital at Cedars, my husband was working, talking to Fabio [Pinto] and Philip Del Rio. He was still working on projects, calling Paul Cambria.

“In fact,” she added, “[Cambria] was due to come out on February 10th and that is the day my husband passed away. They had made arrangements, they had certain things to discuss, and Paul had said, ‘Well, I'll be out on the 10th.’” Mr. Flynt had been hospitalized for about two weeks at that point, and yet his passing was excruciatingly unexpected. “It was sudden,” she said quietly. “It was just a sudden onset.”

The shock still seemed palpable even as we sat speaking. I expressed my sympathies and asked how involved she had been in decision-making at the company over the years.

“I was always behind the scenes, and although I knew what was going on, it was Larry's voice always because he was the boss, the founder, the chairman of the board,” she said. “Larry was in charge, and I think everyone here at corporate and at all the entities knew that. When we would have meetings, everyone would show up with their papers, P&L statements, notes, and Larry would just show up. He had everything up here in his head and knew all the figures and numbers.”

I asked if he was a business genius? “He was,” she said. “My husband was the guiding light, the creative engine in this company, and this company is continuing to grow. My husband said, ‘If anything should happen, Liz, remember, the company will continue to go on as if I was here and continue that growth.’ He was very, very specific, using those words, and I'm quoting.

“My husband built his management team himself over the years, and the one thing we were always strong in was upper management,” she continued. “He was never in fear that if something should happen [to him] the company could not go on. Oh, no. It is so strong, and we are moving forward. So, because of my responsibilities, I have come back to work but in different shoes.”


When she finds herself in a tough situation, does she wonder what Larry would say or do? “I ask myself that question numerous times a day,” she said. “How would Larry handle this? What would Larry say?”

Is there anyone she can turn to now? “Yes, the advisor and the person that I always go to is Paul Cambria,” she said. “He's been with Mr. Flynt since 1976.”

Like her husband, Mrs. Flynt is committed to attending the opening of new Hustler Hollywood stores, and had even attended one the week before we spoke. “It was in Fort Worth, Texas,” she said, adding, “We have 36 retail stores and they're all thriving.”

About the tradition to be at every opening, she added, “Every store, we have a grand opening, and [Larry] was there signing [autographs].” It turns out only COVID could impact the tradition. “He was not able to get to Fort Worth; Boise, Idaho; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Charleston, South Carolina; Tallahassee, Florida, Chicago; and New York,” she explained. “So, I started [visiting them] last week.” These were stores opened during the pandemic. “Some had modified hours, and some had to alter their days because of certain employees incurring the virus. Things were structured a little different, as with retail stores here in Southern California.”

The Hustler Casino and Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady Casino, both in Gardena, California, are currently open 24/7, said Mrs. Flynt. “However, the Health Department says we can only have 50 percent capacity right now,” she added. [Ed: California is opening up, and allowable capacity may have changed since the interview.]

The company weathered the pandemic well and is emerging strong, said Mrs. Flynt, but with about 1500 employees in an array of positions across the LFP spectrum, the company was not immune to the shutdown. “We took a positive turn, and we're very grateful for that,” she added, “but last year, my husband said to me, ‘In the 50 years I've been in business, I've never had to make such a big decision whether to lay off or furlough people,’ because both casinos were shut down at one point. We were not operating because of the virus. The Health Department shut us down as they did the other neighboring casinos.”

So, did he furlough people or lay them off? “He did both,” said his wife. “When the virus came on strong, he furloughed everybody—even corporate—with a handful of people still working full time. But then, when it wasn't certain how things were going to go, Mr. Flynt said to me, ‘Well, I think we're just going to have to lay off people.’ Then we reopened in June, and they closed us again, so we opened and closed twice with the two casinos. The retail stores were OK; they had modified hours and could be open past 10 p.m.”

The pandemic is only just winding down, but already Mrs. Flynt sees progress in retail and beyond. “We’re already seeing a positive change in business,” she said. “I went to visit three [stores] last week, and they're all doing well. I also visited our broadcast company in Boulder, Colorado, and they're doing well, too, as is our company in Europe, which oversees Europe, the Eastern Bloc countries, Mexico, and South America.”

The division she is she most involved with is the one she knows best. “I oversee publishing because that's where I started,” she said. “We've scaled back our staff, but Hustler and Barely Legal are still monthlies, and Taboo is bimonthly, as are our special issues. They're doing quite well,” she added. “We're still profiting from publishing.”


I mentioned interviewing Larry on the 40th anniversary of Hustler magazine, assuming he would be a little sentimental about the magazine that put him on the map. Much to my delight, however, he had no emotional connection to it at all. If it made money, he told me, it could stick around.

“He was a businessman all the way,” concurred Mrs. Flynt. “You can't be successful and be emotional at the same time. Larry always knew what he wanted. He was a very strong-willed man and when he woke up in the morning, he always had a purpose.”

Did he know when he started Hustler that it would grow to become a vast empire? “I'm not sure if he did,” she said, “but Larry told me in 1995, he goes, ‘Liz, with things changing with publishing, I see that if I don't diversify, I could be left behind.’ And so, from publishing he went into video, and from video he went into retail, and from retail he went into gaming, broadcast, and then everything else.”

That expansion extended to real estate. “When Larry was at 9171 [Wilshire Boulevard], down the street, and he was growing, he told me, ‘Liz, we're outgrowing our space. I need to buy a building for my company,” recalled Mrs. Flynt. “And, in 1994, he bought this building at 8484 Wilshire, moved everyone over here, and it became the headquarters.”

Did he pay cash for the building? “He did,” said Mrs. Flynt. “He didn't have to take out a loan. It's interesting, because [Los Angeles Lakers owner] Jerry Buss was a friend of my husband's and they used to play poker together, and one day Jerry said to my husband, ‘I’m mad at you, Larry.’ And Larry goes, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Because I wanted to buy that building on Wilshire for my headquarters, and you bought it before I could get my hands on it.” When Larry told me, I said, ‘Wow, what a compliment.’” Couldn’t Buss have taken a few floors in the building, I ask. “I think he wanted his name on it,” said Mrs. Flynt.

Mr. Flynt sold the building in 2013, and the sale included a provision allowing the company to lease back the space, and nothing has changed in that regard.

Charging forward also is the name of the game with gaming. “We have a third gaming license that my husband owns, and we are going to make a presentation in two weeks to the city council of Cudahy that we want to bring our third license to the city,” said Mrs. Flynt. Growth in retail will persist unabated, as well, she added. “We're at 36 stores right now, we have two in the pipeline, and three to four slated for next year.” Asked if her husband ever thought about taking his retail division public, she said he planned to explore the option “when he had 50 stores.” Is that still the plan? “It’s a thought,” she said.

Larry seemed to have a soft spot for brick-and-mortar retail. “Yes, it's the brand,” said Mrs. Flynt of retail. “It's all about the brand, how strong Hustler is. A long time ago, when Larry opened Hustler on Sunset, and then started going to Ohio, it was there that he knew expanding the retail operation, opening more stores, was going to be a very good thing for the company. So, with 36 retail stores doing very well, and visiting the last three last week that just opened, I was very proud and very sentimental, because it was my first trip in the last two years. There are going to be a lot of firsts for me now, but I was very sentimental making that trip without my husband.”

Was it helpful to go places with him and watch as he interacted with people? “Absolutely,” she said. “No matter where I go, whether it's here, the casinos, the stores, home, Larry's handprints are everywhere. And his office, which is next to mine, is so beautiful. We're going to keep that office open, lights on, for employees who want to come up and walk around. I have it open because a lot of them shared stories with me that Mr. Flynt would call them into his office to meet about whatever they were working on, and they often wanted to stop and look at a photo but were too nervous to just do it. That’s why I opened it up, because it's beautiful and it's an office with a lot of memories.”

How indeed does one separate the brand from the man, especially when they were so inextricably entwined? “Mr. Flynt loved his company, he built it from the ground up, self-made, and he always used to tell me after the first million, the rest doesn't matter.”


Larry Flynt of course also knew everybody. “From Hollywood, to politics, to adult,” said Mrs. Flynt. “Larry loved people.” I ask about the number and breadth of condolences that she has received. “From all over the world,” said Mrs. Flynt. “Europe, Cuba…. it’s just endless. It has been very touching and emotional, and it's been hard for me to write condolence cards.”

Married to Flynt for 23 years, together for much longer than that, Mrs. Flynt may be a mystery to the wider world, but within the company she is the keeper of the flame. “I have a focus, and I have to stick to the plan of what my husband asked me to do,’ she said, unworried about straying off-course or having to be reminded what he wanted her to do. “I don't have to remind myself because I know what I've been through over the years. My husband guided me in private,” she said. “I'm sure every married couple has discussions about if something should happen, because those are the kinds of conversations we used to have, but instead of saying anything, I would always let him speak. I was a listener.”

She said there was never any question about who would take over the business. “I mean, when he told me, I was stunned,” she said. Had he literally just told her one day? “Yes, he did. It was a few years ago, but I always kept quiet. I felt it was always in his interest, and in the company's interest, for me to just keep doing what I'm supposed to be doing. And whenever he spoke or had advice, or he wanted to speak in private, I was a listener. I felt it wasn't good to talk and have questions, but to be a good listener.”

She believes listening served her well, and that the lessons Larry shared are embedded within her and the company forever. “Larry always felt that expanding the company and continuing the growth was important to him, because Larry loved this company and built it from the ground up,” she said, and ticked off the prominent divisions. “Gaming, retail, and broadcast are the cash cows.”

After the top three, the remaining divisions, which include Hustler Clubs scattered throughout the country, may not make as much money as the upper-tier verticals, but they can be equally inseparable from the legacy of the Hustler brand itself.

Movies, for instance. “We are still making movies because of our broadcast company,” said Mrs. Flynt, who added they also buy content. “We are doing our own, we are buying, and we are coordinating with other studios. Remember, Larry did buy VCA and has that library, as well.”


And publishing. As much as Larry loved retail, his brand is equally associated with publishing. “It is,” agreed Mrs. Flynt. “If it wasn't for Hustler magazine, we wouldn't have any of the retail stores, Hustler Casino, or Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady. It's an exciting time right now because we have been able to show how strong this company can be even during a pandemic. Yes, we've weathered a huge storm, but it just shows how strong the leaders are that we have here at corporate, and that our founder was the guiding light through this whole virus.”

To assure continuity, she continued, “He handpicked and built his upper management. I have to give my husband all the credit, because he was very particular, and it wasn't easy.” As for filling those positions now, Mrs. Flynt said, “I don't. We have a wonderful HR department on the ninth floor, and they're phenomenal.

“I always saw my husband as a renaissance man,” she added of her husband’s apparent ability to literally think of everything. She held up a finely bound book that looked to be several hundred pages in length. “See this book right here,” she said. “My husband always had a quote, and always had a different saying for something. And over the years. I used to tell him, ‘Larry, you need to put that in writing. You always have something to say, whether it’s about politics, the constitution. the magazine, growing up, anything.’ We used to call them Flyntisms. I kept telling him for the longest time to put them in writing, and finally, one day, he looked at me and said, ‘Liz, I'm too busy running the company. Why don't you do it?’ So, in 2014, I made this a reality for him. It took me three years, besides my other duties. He had a lot of faith.”

She opened the book to leaf through its pages. “This book could not be more important to me or close to my heart now, because we're talking about a man's legacy,” she said. “What was the most important thing that he ever did, what is he famous for? For going to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning against Jerry Falwell, for free speech. So, I put this together with my husband, and when I needed a title, I asked him, ‘What are we going to put, Larry?’ He said, ‘Freedom, My Legacy, a Collection of Quotes by Larry Flynt, American Outcast and First Amendment champion.’”

Self-published in 2014, the company printed about 125 copies, mostly giving them to special friends. “I think we only have about 12 left and we're not giving any more out because that's all we have,” said Mrs. Flynt. “But what I've decided to do is share it with the rest of the world. I want to sell this in the retail stores, so we're going to go paperback and make it very affordable at $19.”

She read aloud some of the chapter titles. “Fame and Success and Fortune. Freedom and the Truth. Free Press. HIV and AIDS. America. Civil Rights. I mean, every time he said something, I told him he had to put it in writing.” She paused before continuing, “I've often thought, after my husband passes away, who are we going to pass the torch to fight repression, to fight for free speech. I've tried to think of names, and to be honest, I couldn't come up with one name of someone who would stick their neck out like Larry did. I often refer to him as a real wounded warrior. This is a man that got shot. And when he was going after these politicians to hold them accountable, he put out those ads in the Washington Post. Now, who's going to pay $100,000 to take out a full-page ad?”

An hour had passed, and the interview was over. I remained struck by the soft dignity of the woman before me who now carried the weight of this corporation on her shoulders. Though she must have been at many of the same events I’d attended over the years, I had no recollection of meeting her before this. For that lapse I apologized then and there, but she was utterly unfazed. “I was always behind the scenes,” she said with a soft laugh. “The quiet one in the family.”

But doesn’t that also mean that her management style is markedly different from her husband's? “Oh yes, we’re different personalities,” she said, revealing a steely spine to complement her calm demeanor. “My management style is to be cautious, but at the same time to get the work done. There's no time to worry about how things are going to turn out. We need to move forward.”

Coming Next: Part 2: The Executives


Photography courtesy of LFP Inc.