His father claimed Flynt's mother, Edie, as his wife-to-be when she was just 14. That must, I say, have been hard for her. "Ah," Flynt says, shrugging. "Not necessarily. Where I'm from, people got married very young. That wasn't a difficulty." Really? It didn't harm her to be sexualised and married off so young? "No. I don't think so. Not at all." His daughter, Tonya, says Flynt feels "great anger" towards his mother, who had a reputation in the town for sleeping around, and that he regarded her as "a whore". So I ask Flynt if he remembers when he first found out his mother – who worked three menial jobs, one after the other – was promiscuous. He looks vacantly, away from me, for such a long time that I think he might not have heard me. Then says: "I don't think when any child finds that out about his mother it's pleasant. It's disturbing. But you've got to go on. You've got to live with it."
He lost his own virginity at the age of nine, to a chicken. He describes penetrating its egg sack, and how "when I let the chicken go, it started towards the main house, staggering, squawking and bleeding" – so he immediately killed it. Did you feel bad for the chicken? "What? No. It was a" – long breath, gasp – "chicken."
Then, one morning in 1978, Flynt's ripple of legal victories was suddenly halted on the doorsteps of a courthouse in Georgia. He was walking into court when he heard a loud crack – and looked down to see "my intestines were spilling out of my body. The front of my stomach had been ripped off". He had 11 surgeries, removing six feet of his intestines. "It felt as though I had been disemboweled and hung on a meat hook in my grandpa's smokehouse," he says. Nobody was ever arrested, but eventually a white supremacist called Joseph Paul Franklin claimed he had done it because he was outraged by an interracial photoshoot in Hustler. Flynt says: "He killed about 25 people, but when he was asked by an interviewer if he regretted any of it, he said, 'Yeah. I hear Larry Flynt is a really nice guy. I shouldn't have shot him'."
The most serious (and most fiercely contested) charge against Flynt – politely ignored by the supposed liberals who queue up to champion him as an icon of freedom – is worse still. It is that he was a child molester. I decide to raise the topic sideways at first. I ask about a comic strip he ran in Hustler for 13 years, called "Chester The Molester". It featured an old man who, in each strip, would trick prepubescent or adolescent girls into pleasuring him. A typical cartoon shows a little girl in a hiked-up dress hurtling down a playground slide, while Chester the Molester is waiting at the bottom with his tongue hanging out. The man who drew the cartoon, Dwaine Tinsley, was convicted of raping his own daughter, Alison, and of forcing her to take birth control pills from her 13th birthday onwards. He served two years in prison – and Hustler continued to publish the cartoons drawn from his jail cell.
Flynt looks irritated. "Dwaine Tinsley was a genius," he says. "He was at one time in America in the Seventies and Eighties the most brilliant and recognised cartoonist in America... I liked him. He was an old country boy, you know." What would you say to his daughter about why you employed him? "He was released." Yes, on a technicality – not because he was innocent. "I never got involved in that because I never knew what the circumstances were so I don't really have a comment on them. It doesn't at all reconcile with the person I knew." Really? It seems jarring to you that a man who drew a cartoon lauding child molestation was actually a child molester? "I don't know. It may very well have happened. I wasn't involved." Doesn't that suggest a very casual attitude towards the rape of children? That you're not bothered by it? That you would publish a cartoon joking about child molestation by a child molester in his prison cell? "Wh-at? No. Paedophiliacs don't read Hustler. Hustler is an adult thing."
|Larry Flynt in his gold-plated wheelchair,|
in front of a Hustler Magazine dated October 1983
It's hard to keep him focused on this subject, or any subject. His conversation skids about.
He doubts Barack Obama would cheat on his wife because: "You ever looked at her? If he ever cheated on her she'd kick his ass. You know they may be black but they've got a very stable family."
Then he says, apropos of nothing: "Sarah Palin is the dumbest thing. But I made a fortune off of her. [He made a porn film called Nailin' Palin, based on her]... "She did a disservice to every woman in America. She knew from the first month of pregnancy that kid was going to be Down's Syndrome. It's brain dead. A virtual vegetable. She carries it to all these different political events against abortion, she did it just because she didn't want to say she'd had an abortion. How long is it going to live? Another 12, 15 years? Doesn't even know it's in this world. So what kind of compassionate conservative is she? I don't think anybody will want her near the White House."
I think Flynt is - was 'Chester the Chicken Molester', and his 'hell' has been served every day since that gunshot ripped him apart in 1978.
His life has been one celebratory of rape, and nothing good has come of it.