DAVID MONTGOMERY / GETTY Guccione in 1993.

For many years he chose all the models, took most of the pictures and designed the layouts for Penthouse

Bob Guccione
American businessman who launched Penthouse magazine in London before introducing it to the US to take on Playboy

Founding his magazine Penthouse in 1965, as a rival to Hugh Hefner¶s Playboy, the American Bob Guccione went on to create around it a corporate empire, General Media Inc, that specialised in erotic (when they were not frankly pornographic) products that included mechandising, book publishing and other magazines, some aimed at female audiences. Penthouse, which was established in London four years before he introduced it to the American public, aimed to be more downmarket than Playboy, and to exceed its famous competitor in explicitness. Eschewing the intellectual side of Playboy, which at times expressed itself in interviews with poets and other high-brow writers, Penthouse addressed itself to the ³regular guy´ whose preferences went far beyond the carefully draped female bodies that were at that time Playboy¶s stock in trade. Penthouse was soon publishing provocative soft-porn photographs of completely naked women, and with their explicit challenge to the feminist movement at that time in full cry in the US, swiftly gained a huge following among America¶s blue-collar workers, as well as appealing to fetishists from all quarters of society on both sides of the Atlantic. Such publishing ³coups´ as that of naked photographs of the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, in 1984 (though taken some time before), coincided roughly with the peak of Penthouse¶s popularity and Guccione¶s wealth. At that time he was listed in the Forbes 400 wealthiest people with an estimated net worth of around $400 million. That Williams was compelled to relinquish her crown as a result of the Penthouse photo-spread only increased the magazine¶s notoriety. With a house in New Jersey and the largest private residence in Manhattan, containing an internationally acclaimed art collection that included works by Botticelli, Dürer, El Greco, Modigliani, Dalí, Degas, Matisse and Picasso, Guccione seemed to exist on a plateau of unassailable good fortune. This was soon to prove illusory. By the 1990s Penthouse had moved decisively in the direction of hardcore pornography. But before the turn of the century this was beginning to experience the competition of the free online product, which greatly blunted its impact. People simply would not pay Penthouse prices for what they could obtain far more cheaply. Penthouse¶s circulation began to plummet. This, coupled with a number of bad business deals, spectacular among which was the failure of the X-rated film Caligula, in which Guccione had invested $17.5 million, made serious inroads into General Media¶s profits. By 2003 General Media was declaring itself bankrupt and Guccione resigned as chairman and CEO of Penthouse International. By 2006 the magazine¶s circulation had fallen to an estimated 500,000, a tenth of what it had been at its peak. In the meantime, both the Manhattan mansion and its fabulous art collection had become victims of this dramatic downturn in Guccione¶s fortunes, and had been sold. Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione was born in Brooklyn in 1930, but raised in Bergen County, a prosperous New Jersey suburb. His father, an accountant of Sicilian extraction, sent him to a private boarding school, where he developed an interest in art.

Soon after graduation Guccione married his first wife, Lilyann Becker. The marriage was dissolved, and Guccione sailed for Europe to become an artist. Abandoning his studies after a week or two, he toured Morocco, Italy and the South of France, supplementing his father¶s maintenance cheques by selling pencil drawings to tourists and reading fortunes. Returning to New York, he designed greetings cards and earned commissions from advertising agencies. In 1953 he exhibited his Post-Impressionist paintings at a trattoria in Greenwich Village, but they were largely ignored. In 1959 Guccione moved to London. He briefly ran a drycleaning business in Finsbury Park before joining the staff of the London American, a weekly magazine. When it folded he decided to set up a British counterpart to Playboy. Penthouse caused a sensation even before it hit the news stands, when Guccione sent out a large number of promotional copies many of which ended up in the homes of clergymen and MPs. A writ for indecency was issued but the resulting publicity helped the first issue sell out in just five days. Penthouse was every inch Guccione¶s magazine. For many years, he chose all the models, took most of the pictures and designed the layouts. Following Playboy¶s lead, he attempted to give his magazine an aura of respectability by publishing articles from serious writers. In 1969, when he launched an American version, Guccione took out a fullpage advertisement in The New York Times showing a Playboy bunny in the sights of a rifle with the caption, ³We¶re going rabbit-hunting.´ By 1978 Penthouse had overtaken Playboy in overthe-counter sales and become the most profitable title on the newsstands, making at least $7 million a year. As Penthouse¶s sales continued to grow, Playboy was forced to follow the lead of its raunchier rival. Published in more than a dozen foreign-language editions, Penthouse accelerated farther away from its rival, adding leather, whips and Dobermann pinschers to its stock in trade and running phone-sex ads. Its pictures of Vanessa Williams generated $14 million, and it later featured appearances by Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones, but failed to secure a deal with Monica Lewinsky, despite offering the former White House intern $2 million for her story and a nude photo shoot. But the notorious, brutal and pornographic film Caligula (1970) was dismissed by the critics and disowned by many of its stars, who included Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud, Peter O¶Toole and Helen Mirren, and was a financial diasaster. Although at its peak in the early 1990s Guccione¶s publishing empire turned over $300 million a year, General Media lost $7.6 million in 1995 and Guccione closed his science and health magazines, Omni and Longevity, the next year. Blaming sharp rises in paper costs and postal rates, Guccione raised Penthouse¶s cover price. But some distributors and newsagents became nervous at his ventures into darker pornographic material and refused to handle or stock the magazine. Advertising revenue fell as a feminist backlash against pornography became more powerful.

Guccione also lost $12 million on a scheme by the scientist Robert Bussard to use nuclear fusion to generate power. He spent a further $40 million on research into genetic engineering, and made a disastrous commitment ² $60 million of his own money and around $200 million from other investors ² on ambitious plans for a casino complex in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to be known as the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino. Construction of the complex began, only for an elderly woman to refuse to move out of her boarding house on the site. Guccione, who had neglected to obtain a gambling licence in advance, discovered that the New Jersey authorities were deeply suspicious of his wanting to invest in casinos. After the banks pulled out, the casino¶s vast steel structure rusted for ten years before being pulled down. In 2002 Penthouse published what it wrongly claimed were topless pictures of the tennis star Anna Kournikova. It eventually ended up paying damages to both Kournikova and the woman who really was the subject of the photos. In 2003 General Media defaulted on its loans. Faced with a liquidity crisis, Penthouse was forced to cancel print runs, lay off workers and withhold pay cheques. In the months before General Media filed for bankruptcy, two issues failed to appear and a third was delayed, and Guccione resigned from the board. His art collection, valued at $59 million in 2000, was auctioned in 2002, and his Manhattan mansion went on the market in 2006. In 2009 he moved from New Jersey to Texas with his fourth wife. Latterly he had returned to his first love, painting, and works were shown at venues including the Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio, and the Nassau County Museum of Art in New York State. He is survived by his fourth wife April, by a daughter from his first marriage, and by two sons and a daughter of his second marrage, to Muriel Hudson. His third wife, Kathy Keeton, died of cancer in 1997. Printed and distributed by NewpaperDirect | www.newspaperdirect.com, US/Can: 1.877.980.4040, Intern: 800.6364.6364 | Copyright and protected by applicable law.