The obits I've read so far about him -- even the BBC's -- seem a little sparse and superficial: founded Penthouse, got rich, lost almost all of it, dead now. Very little sense of how truly odd the man seemed. Eccentric? I know some of those eccentricities (Vanity Fair did a fascinating 2005 piece about him, written by former Viva executive editor Patricia Bosworth -- in other words, a former Guccione employee). I was an OMNI subscriber (yes, subscriber; as a budding pervert, I was amused that I was buying a magazine from Penthouse's founder) around my high school time. Didn't often "buy" -- or sometimes even get -- what his writers wrote about in that magazine, but it was a chance to think about weirder, science-fiction-in-the-real-world shit. And OMNI was matter-of-fact about sex and sexuality being part of that world.
Now to sex and sexuality. I've read/looked at Penthouse over the years. Fascinating watching its evolution, as the magazine deliberately tested boundaries over the years, but in a seemingly smiling way, like the magazine and its editors were having fun. Larry Flynt, for all his influence (well-conveyed in The People Vs. Larry Flynt), seems to me a rather joyless, grim person -- whereas Guccione, for all his weirdness, seemed to enjoy that he was putting more sex out into the world. (This does not mean I agree with all that he actually did, or published. Experimenting means failure, like Viva.)
At the end of his influence on Penthouse, he had okayed the magazine going hardcore and showing real people really having real sex really. It was him adapting to how much hardcore porn was then easier to get once we'd reached the late Nineties, but still in that testing-the-boundaries way, as if the magazine were saying We want to find our own weird niche and try to (again) have fun doing it. (It amused me that when the magazine's slogan became "The magazine of sex, politics, and protest," the magazine's website added "...but mostly sex." Or earlier, when David Lynch produced a documentary about his rival Hugh Hefner, Guccione reviewed it for Entertainment Weekly and added, with a seeming wink, "Watch it. I won't be offended.")
You might not want to know how much of Penthouse I've looked at to reach this impression. But remember, I'm a pervert. A pervert who wants there to be more enjoyment tied to sex and sexuality. Still one of the hottest things I've ever seen in media was in a Penthouse. No, I'm not describing it. When the new owners took Penthouse in their own direction -- and, by the way, let the then-bankrupt Guccione continue to live in his Manhattan mansion for $1 contractual-obligation rent, so they did do that gesture -- they for a time took away the hardcore that had been one of the magazine's big features, then slowly started reintroducing it. This also went into Penthouse's satellite publications like Forum and Girls of Penthouse. But at that point, it started to seem grimmer, even meaner. The attitude was wrong. The people taking part didn't seem to be having fun. It seemed "off" again. Guccione apparently had not been crazy about going in the hardcore direction -- he felt it wasn't as arty as earlier photography work the magazine had done -- but he and his photographing/editing team did what they could to make it work. And made it work better than how it's working now.
Rest in peace, Bob Guccione. Thank you for helping the world be at least a touch weirder.