Bob Guccione, who founded Penthouse magazine and built a fortune on adult entertainment before the rise of pornography on the Internet, died yesterday in Plano, Texas, the Associated Press reported, citing a statement from his family. He was 79.
Guccione died at Plano Specialty Hospital after combating cancer, his family said.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1930, Guccione started Penthouse in the mid-1960s. By the 1980s, he had created a $300 million media business, and Penthouse, which offered more- explicit photographs than rival Playboy, had a circulation of 4.7 million, according to the New York Times.
Guccione made Forbes magazine’s list of richest Americans, with an estimated fortune of $200 million in 1984 and $300 million in 1988.
He said fears of AIDS sent more and more people to the relative safety of adult entertainment.
“People are more fearful of casual sex today than ever before, and voyeurism -- the means of enjoying sex vicariously - - has become a much more prominent pastime in this country, directly as a result of AIDS,” he told United Press International in 1989. “So magazines, videos, books, motion pictures, are getting a great deal of attention, more attention than they ever got before.”
Throughout the 1990s, the growing availability of pornography on the Internet undercut Guccione’s empire, which suffered on other fronts as well. He lost money on unsuccessful plans to build a Penthouse casino in Atlantic City and on a hard-core film, “Caligula.”
In 2003, Penthouse’s publisher, General Media Inc., which was 85 percent owned by Guccione, filed for bankruptcy. The magazine is now published by FriendFinder Networks Inc., which runs adult websites.
Penthouse’s first issue hit newsstands in the U.K. in 1965 and went on sale in the U.S. in 1969, according to Biography.com. The magazine challenged the popularity of Playboy, a men’s magazine that had gained widespread following, by featuring photos and content that were intended to be more explicit and provocative.
‘Pornography as Art’
Neither Playboy nor Penthouse pushed as far as Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine, however. Guccione and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner “always tried to masquerade their pornography as art and justify it by including articles that were supposed to have had so-called ‘redeeming social value,’” Flynt wrote in “An Unseemly Man,” his 2008 memoir. “But as transparent as the strategy was, it worked.”
Guccione was once an altar boy in the Catholic Church who spent several months in a seminary before dropping out, according to Biography.com. He harbored dreams of becoming an artist before beginning a career in media, the site says.
Penthouse sparked controversy in 1984 by publishing nude photos of Vanessa Williams, the first black woman crowned Miss America. Williams relinquished the title after the issue was released.
In 2000, the magazine ran an interview with and nude pictures of Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who accused President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. In March 2008, Penthouse offered Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the prostitute who was paid $4,300 to have sex with then-New York governor Eliot Spitzer, the chance to pose on its Web site, host a video chat or take part in a live Web-cam session.