Penthouse Founder Bob Guccione Dead at 79

PLANO, Texas—Bob Guccione, the legendary founder and publisher of Penthouse magazine, who fell on hard times in later years and eventually had to sell his beloved empire, has died. He was 79 years old, and passed after fighting a long battle with lung cancer at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano, Texas.

His wife, April Dawn Warren Guccione, was at his side at the time of his passing today along with two of his children, Bob Jr. and Tonina.

Guccione married for the first time before he turned 20 and had his first child, Tonina, but left his wife to spend many years as a painter in Europe before founding Penthouse magazine in 1965 in England while working as the manager of a chain of self-service laundries and as a cartoonist for The London American.

While in Europe he befriended and painted with Picasso and Matisse. He traveled widely, and became friends with William S. Burroughs and other expatriate American writers. After marrying again he had four more children: Bob Jr., Nina, Tony and Nick.

Guccione brought the magazine to the United States in 1969. In the years that followed, he built Penthouse into one of the great media brands in the world.

In the magazine’s early days, Guccione photographed most of the models himself, creating the diffused, soft-focus look that became a Penthouse trademark. His plan was to make Penthouse profitable enough so he could pursue his first love—art.

Penthouse provided men with an alternative to Hugh Hefner's high-minded Playboy. Guccione's magazine featured more sensationalistic editorial with stories of government conspiracies, cover-ups and celebrity scandals.

The magazine's pictorials of nude models offered more sexually explicit content too, and got progressively harder as the decades passed. From showing pubic hair in the 1960s to facials in the 1990s, Penthouse changed with the times.

Eventually Guccione relocated to Manhattan, where he bought a mansion on the city’s Upper East Side that was said to be the borough’s largest private residence. He lived in the 30-room, 22,000-square-foot home with his third wife, Kathy Keeton, who passed away in 1997.

The mansion also housed Guccione’s art studio, where he eventually resumed painting again, some 32 years after he stopped. He created oil-on-canvas works that were shown in critically acclaimed exhibitions at the Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio, the Nassau County Museum of Art and in many galleries across the country.

He continued to exercise his love for art by amassing a world-class collection that included works by Modigliani, Picasso, Botticelli, El Greco, Dürer, Chagall, Dali and Degas. The Guccione art collection was sold by Sotheby's in November 2002.

Guccione also found success in Hollywood, where he produced or financed such classics as Caligula (1979), with Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole; Chinatown (1974), directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston; and The Longest Yard (1974), directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter and Michael Conrad.

In more recent years, Guccione encountered hard times after several unsuccessful investments, including losing more than $160 million in a failed Penthouse-branded casino venture. In 2003, General Media, Penthouse's publishing company, declared bankruptcy and Guccione resigned as CEO and chairman-of-the-board of Penthouse International, Inc.

Guccione married his fourth wife in 2006; in 2009, they moved from the New Jersey to Texas, where he battled lung cancer.

“My cancer was only a tiny tumor about the size of an almond at the base of my tongue,” he told New York magazine’s Anthony Haden Guest in 2004. “The cure is probably every bit as bad as the disease. It’s affected my ability to swallow … the mobility of my tongue … it makes it very difficult for me to talk.”

Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini "Bob" Guccione was born in Brooklyn, New York, on Dec. 17, 1930, into a large Sicilian family. He was raised in Bergenfield, N.J., and attended the Blair Academy preparatory school.

Funeral services for Guccione will be private.

Thursday, Hustler founder and publisher Larry Flynt provided the following comment on the death of Guccione.

“Bob Guccione and I were not friends," said Flynt. "We were in court suing each other for decades. I do concede that he made a substantial contribution to erotica and expanding the perimeters of free speech.”

Penthouse, which is now owned by FriendFinder Networks, also issued a statement on the passing of its founder.

"It is with great sadness that Penthouse mourns the loss of its founder Bob Guccione. Mr. Guccione was a unique and talented individual and his courage as a publisher and journalist holds a unique place in the evolution of modern media. His vision lives on with the continued publication of Penthouse Magazine and its afifliated publications. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Guccione's family during this difficult time."