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Bob Guccione, 79, founder of Penthouse magazine

FILE - In this May 14, 1982 file photo, Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione poses in his New York mansion with an over-sized gavel his daughter gave him after he was victorious in a California court battle. Guccione _ who erected an erotic corporate empire after founding Penthouse magazine only to see it crumble into bankruptcy died Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010. He was 79. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)
FILE - In this May 14, 1982 file photo, Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione poses in his New York mansion with an over-sized gavel his daughter gave him after he was victorious in a California court battle. Guccione _ who erected an erotic corporate empire after founding Penthouse magazine only to see it crumble into bankruptcy died Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010. He was 79. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File) (Marty Lederhandler - AP)

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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 11:14 PM

Bob Guccione was a seminary dropout and a part-time palm reader in 1965 when he founded Penthouse magazine in his London apartment, where he used a bathroom door and two milk crates as his desk.

His goal, he said, was to be the low-brow alternative to the upscale Playboy, and he filled his magazine's glossy pages with pictorials of nude women in explicitly erotic positions. He took most of the photos himself.

Penthouse's first issue was numbered, not dated, because Mr. Guccione, an American expatriate, was not sure how the British public would receive his magazine. But to ensure success, he sent graphic promotional materials to the clergy and every member of parliament.

The ensuing uproar landed Mr. Guccione on the front page of every English newspaper, and Penthouse's first printing sold out in two days.

From those controversial roots, Mr. Guccione, who died of lung cancer Oct. 20 at age 79 at a hospital in Plano, Tex., built a worldwide erotic empire.

Penthouse was the first mainstream magazine to publish photographs of full frontal nudity, groups of people in sexual positions, and women in lesbian scenes.

"I think we made a very serious contribution to the liberalization of laws and attitudes," Mr. Guccione once said. "Much that has happened now in the Western world with respect to sexual advances is directly due to steps we took."

Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Dec. 17, 1930.

He grew up in Bergenfield, N.J., and graduated from the private Blair Academy in New Jersey in 1948. He was briefly enrolled in a Catholic seminary before he set off for Europe as a traveling artist who did portraits and cartoons of tourists and performed fortune-telling on the side.

He joined the production staff of a London newspaper and learned the publication trade before starting Penthouse with a thousand-dollar loan from his father.

In the late 1960s, after his magazine overtook Playboy in sales in England, Mr. Guccione boldly announced Penthouse's next venture: the colonization of the American shores.

He paid for full-page ads in newspapers featuring a gunsight centered on the Playboy bunny logo, with the words: "We're going rabbit hunting."


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