Porn mogul Larry Flynt dead at 78: US media
Larry Flynt (AFP)

US porn mogul Larry Flynt, best known as the publisher of Hustler Magazine and a self-styled free-speech champion, died in Los Angeles Wednesday aged 78, according to media reports.

Family members confirmed the death to the Washington Post and NBC but did not cite a specific cause. Celebrity outlet TMZ, which broke the news, said Flynt had died from heart failure.

Flynt's representatives did not immediately respond to AFP request for confirmation.

Flynt, a self-described "smut peddler with a heart," rose from abject poverty to run a vast adult entertainment empire. He published the first issue of Hustler magazine, created as a lowbrow, explicit counterpart to magazines like Playboy, in 1974.

His business empire grew to include dozens of magazine titles, internet porn sites, clubs and a casino outside Los Angeles.

In 1978 Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot by a white supremacist angered by inter-racial sex photos that ran in Hustler. This resulted in an on-and-off addiction to pain killers over the years.

Flynt's empire was estimated to be worth between $100 million and $500 million.

His other enduring legacy is as an outspoken free-speech advocate and the man behind Hustler v. Falwell, a 1988 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the US Constitution protects writers and artists that mock public figures.

The case overturned a $200,000 libel judgment against Flynt for "emotional distress" inflicted on conservative US televangelist Jerry Fallwell.

The offending article was a parody ad that ran in Hustler suggesting that Falwell's first sexual encounter was with his mother in an out-house.

The Supreme Court case and Flynt's life was immortalized in "The People vs. Larry Flynt," a 1996 Hollywood film directed by Milo Forman and starring Woody Harrelson.

"I must admit that I never bought Hustler magazine, and I believe I never will," Forman wrote in the introduction of Flynt's 1996 autobiography.

"But, as long as I live, I will always admire Larry Flynt: his life, his courage, and his tenacity."

After Flynt's early success running strip clubs, he founded Hustler Newsletter in 1972, a black-and-white publication with explicit photos that two years later evolved into a glossy magazine.

Most distributors initially shunned the publication.

But the magazine version launched in 1974 and sales skyrocketed a year later when it ran a nude photo of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sunbathing on vacation, and Flynt raked in his first million.

Flynt spent years battling obscenity charges for his graphic photos in several states.