She was Althea Leasure Flynt, wife of Larry Flynt, the Hustler magazine publisher who seems to delight in descending to new depths of offensiveness.
Althea Flint reportedly had been sick for many months, steadily losing weight and socializing less and less. On Saturday, June 27, she appears to have fallen asleep and drowned in her bath. Los Angeles County Coroner spokesman Bill Gold said yesterday the cause of death will not be known until an autopsy and toxicology tests are completed, possibly in the next few days. Meanwhile, speculation about AIDS, drugs, foul play and suicide remain unsubstantiated.
Her face in photographs is that of a wordly pixie. A pointed face framed by short, spiked hair; a bright, taut smile; intelligent, wary eyes.
She go-go danced into the public eye after Larry Flynt hired her, at 17, as a dancer at one of his Ohio nightclubs. She became his fourth wife in 1976. They were together constantly, the paunchy porn-peddler and his flamboyant follower.
She ran her husband's multi-million-dollar magazine when he briefly became religious under the influence of President Carter's sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton.
She attended to him when he was left paralyzed from the waist down and impotent following a murder attempt at a Georgia obscenity trial.
It was no small accomplishment developing her own notoriety and outrageousness, so close to one of the most outrageous figures in America. Larry Flynt pushed porn magazines to the outer limit: Hustler features close- up shots of women's genitals and, critics say, regularly portrays violence against women.
He ran for President of the United States in 1983, producing campaign commercials that sent the networks scurrying for the right to censor them. He has been sued by the Rev. Jerry Falwell for printing a mock Campari ad in which Falwell talks about having sex with his mother.
But Althea Flynt managed to gain notoriety in her own right. She was smart enough to run the magazine by herself, fiery enough to get into fights on her own and flamboyant enough to attract her own publicity. She was sentenced to five years probation in 1984 for biting a federal marshal in a Los Angeles courthouse. Although Flynt kicked his drug habit, his wife never managed to beat hers, and was in and out of clinics looking for a cure.
But she remained Larry Flynt's partner. The two, both originally from poor
Kentucky towns, went through his post-shooting illness together and became addicted to painkillers, marijuana and cocaine together. When he became impotent, Althea, who said she was bisexual, said she gave up sex as well. He said in a 1983 interview that if she were the one paralyzed, he would be ''downstairs screwing the maid."
A few months before she died, Althea Flynt told a friend at Hustler that she had AIDS, according to a recent Washington Post article. Larry Flynt said she had ARC, Aids-Related Complex.
But Althea did not seem the sort of woman who would weep on anybody's shoulder; she survived by acting tough. Her vulnerability showed only occasionally, as when her husband was imprisoned on a drug charge in 1984 and she had to get psychiatric help.
The Flynts had recently both enrolled in an organization that charges about $100,000 to deep-freeze a human body. Althea Flynt apparently hoped she could be brought back to life when a cure for her illness was found.
A People magazine story reports that she dreamed about her death during her last few months.
She is now buried in the Flynt family plot near Lakeville, Ky.