DALLAS – Bob Guccione, who founded Penthouse magazine and created an erotic corporate empire around it, only to see it crumble as his investments soured and the world of pornography turned toward video and the Internet, died Wednesday. He was 79.
A statement issued by the Guccione family said he died at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano, Texas. His wife, April Dawn Warren Guccione, had said he had battled lung cancer for several years.
Penthouse reached the pinnacle of its popularity in September 1984, when it published nude pictures of Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America. Williams, now a singer and actress, was forced to relinquish her crown after the release of the issue, which sold nearly 6 million copies and reportedly made $14 million.
A frustrated artist who once attended a Catholic seminary, Guccione started Penthouse in 1965 in England to subsidize his art career. He introduced the magazine to the American public in 1969 at the height of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution.
Penthouse quickly posed a challenge to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy by offering a mix of tabloid journalism with provocative photos of nude women, dubbed Penthouse Pets.
Guccione built a corporate empire under the General Media Inc. umbrella that included book publishing and merchandising divisions.
Guccione and longtime business collaborator Kathy Keeton, who later became his third wife, also published more mainstream fare, such as Omni magazine, which focused on science and science fiction, and Longevity, a health advice magazine. Keeton died of cancer in 1997 following surgery.
Guccione lost much of his personal fortune on bad investments and risky ventures. Probably his best-known business failure was a $17.5 million investment in the 1979 production of the X-rated film “Caligula.”