Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner died on Sept. 27 at the Playboy Mansion. He was 91 years old. (GETTY IMAGES/FILES)
The polyester porn kings who ruled their empires of smut with the swagger of Mick Jagger are largely memories now.
Their magazines gone, or massively diminished, and they themselves are digging into the big coke bowl in the sky.
The death this week of Playboy pooh-bah Hugh Hefner at 91 triggered a wave of hormone-charged nostalgia among men — and some women — of a certain age.
Hefner`s great rival, Penthouse chief Bob Guccione pegged out in 2010 and his magazine joined him in 2012. Sales had fallen from a staggering 5 million copies a month to a pitiful 100,000.
Playboy has plummeted from 7 million sales monthly to 673,000. The mags white trash cousin, Larry Flynt’s Hustler, has fallen from 3 million a month to a little over 100,000.
When Flynt tweeted his condolences for Hefner, it almost seemed as though he was lamenting an era that will never return.
He tweeted: “Truly sad at the moment. I have always held great admiration for Hugh; he had a remarkable presence about him. My thoughts & prayers go out to his family & our friends at @Playboy.”
Changing tastes — but mostly the Internet — have relegated the skin mags to the same bin as your James Last records.
“The internet’s cloak of invisibility eliminates teenage boys’ fear that some bookstore clerk knows what they’re up to,” former Hustler editor Lee Quarnstrom said in a 2015 essay.
Once, Hugh, Bob and Larry were household names.
They had the dough, the girls, the lifestyle.
Magazine guru Samir Husni said the dying patient can’t even be comfortable, the situation is so dire.
“That’s one magazine category that really can’t compete with the internet and television,” Husni told Wired. “Sex has become so much a mainstream entity.”
And that’s it.
Porn is so ubiquitous that as noted aficionado David Duchovny told Bill Simmons on his podcast, a child could be born today and would never run out of smut to gaze upon.
It isn’t just the magazines going the way of the passenger pigeon, video porn producers are also in a fight for their lives. Why buy a DVD or pay for porn when there is a smorgasbord of depravity available for free?
Bizarrely, porn has never been more popular — joked about at dinner parties with a knowing wink and nudge.
Newsstand offerings are a pittance compared to the golden age of the late 1980s.
Is Gent (Home of the D Cups) still publishing? What about its stable mate, Juggs?
Even the market for hardcore porn has splintered into a thousand kinks and fetishes.
According to The Guardian, commercial porn site Clips4Sale offered 100 different fetish categories in 2005. By 2015 the same site offers an eye-popping 946 different kinks.
Explosive issues with the likes of raunch shots from Madonna or Jackie Kennedy simply could not compete.
Now, Larry Flynt is the last of the classic American triumvirate of smut lords still above ground.
Flynt — who rose from Ohio strip club owner to publishing baron then First Amendment activist — doesn’t think the printed version of his raunchy magazine will last much longer.
The blue collar bad boy did the impossible: made allies of the religious right and the feminist left.
The survivor of scads of First Amendment battles and wars with televangelist Jerry Falwell and feminist stand-bearer Gloria Steinem, Flynt’s fights now seem quaint.
“Hustler magazine isn’t going to be around much longer,” a gloomy Flynt predicted in 2015 on Bloomberg News. “Most people are getting their information from the internet. Technology brings a lot with it and it takes a lot away.”
In 1972, 25% of male American college students read Playboy and it gave them the wherefores and whys of sex.
But now, we’re not at the happy finish they would have liked. Playboy kicked full-frontal nudity to the curb two years ago — then brought it back.
“Unless a new breed of hipster manages to get retro magazines back in fashion like vinyl records...Playboy is a limping beast,” men’s magazine historian Dian Hanson told BBC News.
And maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Former porn star Veronica Vera — star of Romancing the Bone, Night Hunger and others — told the New York Post that maybe it’s time.
“Guccione and Hefner, they had fun, they made money, they caused the world to change. I think they’ve earned a rest,” Vera said.