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Oct 21 2010

Bob Guccione, Penthouse Founder (1930 – 2010)

AEBN mourns the loss of one of the adult industry’s true pioneers.  Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini “Bob” Guccione, the visionary who founded the Penthouse media empire and assembled one of the great private art collections in the United States, has died after a long and courageous battle against cancer.

He passed away on October 20, 2010 at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano, Texas, according to his wife April Dawn Warren Guccione, who was at his side at the time along with two of his children, Bob Jr. and Tonina.

A highly praised painter, for most of his life Bob Guccione was best known as the founder of Penthouse magazine, which he launched in 1965 in England and built into one of the world’s most popular magazines for men. He established Penthouse as a brand name that remains a significant part of pop culture.

Bob Guccione was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 17, 1930 into a large family of Sicilian immigrants headed by his accountant father. He was raised in Bergenfield, New Jersey, and attended the Blair Academy preparatory school. His consuming interest was painting, and in 1948 he wrote to a friend: “I want to devote my life to the serious and profound intricacies of true and imaginative art”. He married for the first time before the age of 20, and had his first child, Tonina. He then moved to Europe to pursue his passion as a painter and while there he befriended and painted with Picasso and Matisse. He traveled widely, and became friends with William S. Burroughs and other ex-patriot American writers. After marrying again he had four more children, Bob Jr., Nina, Tony, and Nick.

Mr. Guccione was working as the manager of a chain of self-service laundries in London and as a cartoonist on The London American, an American weekly newspaper, in 1965 when he got the idea of starting Penthouse, a magazine that would be aimed at “regular guys” and would be more sexually explicit and daring in its editorial approach than another early adult magazine for men, Playboy. The magazine featured photos of nude women in highly suggestive poses and its editorial coverage of government cover-ups and scandals was frequently far ahead of “mainstream” journalism.

In its early days, the magazine operated on a shoe string, and Mr. Guccione himself photographed most of the models for the magazine’s early issues, applying his knowledge of painting to his photography as he created the diffused, soft focus-look that was a trademark of Penthouse pictorials for many years. His plan was to get the magazine business to generate an income stream that would enable him to devote more time to his first love, painting.

Penthouse became a great success, as well known for its investigative reporting as for its pictorials of gorgeous women wearing nothing. Eventually, Mr. Guccione bought a mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that was said to be the largest private residence in the city, and which he remodeled with painstaking care. He and his third wife, Kathy Keeton, lived a quiet life in the 30-room, 22,000 square feet home, although they opened it frequently to host events to support causes including the New York Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and other organizations. For many years Ms Keeton worked closely with the poorest school district in Harlem to provide funding for basic needs and for extra curricular activities.

The mansion also housed Mr. Guccione’s art studio, where he eventually resumed painting again, some 32 years after he stopped. He created oil on canvas works that were shown in critically acclaimed exhibitions at the Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio, the Nassau County Museum of Art and in many galleries across the country. He told an interviewer in 1994: “My art is something I do for myself, as all other artists do, so my art represents the real me.”

He and Ms. Keeton launched several magazines, including Longevity, Viva and Omni, which in the late 1980s was the first magazine to have an Internet presence. He also produced or financed several motion pictures, including Caligula (1979) with Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, and Peter O’Toole; Chinatown (1974), directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston; and The Longest Yard (1974), directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter and Michael Conrad. In the early 2000s, Penthouse published a short-lived comic book spin-off entitled Penthouse Comix featuring racy stories. Ms. Keeton died in 1997.

Bob Guccione had numerous personal and business enthusiasms, including an ill-fated attempt to create the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, which cost over $150 million and caused him to tell an interviewer, “I was the biggest loser in Atlantic City.”

Guccione married Ms. Warren in 2006 and in 2009 they moved from the New Jersey to Texas, where he fought the lung cancer that eventually took him. He told Anthony Haden Guest during a New York Magazine interview in 2004, “My cancer was only a tiny tumor about the size of an almond at the base of my tongue. The cure is probably every bit as bad as the disease. It’s affected my ability to swallow . . . the mobility of my tongue . . . it makes it very difficult for me to talk…”

Mr. Guccione was also a world-renowned art collector. His collection, which was displayed on the walls of the New York City mansion and a country home in Staatsburg, New York, included works by Modigliani, Picasso, Botticelli, El Greco, Durer, Chagall, Dali, Degas, The Guccione art collection was sold by Sotheby’s in November, 2002.

He was greatly admired by his peers and by media figures. Steven Hirsch, co-founder and co-chairman of adult industry leader Vivid Entertainment said: “Bob was a true innovator and his magazines reflected his wonderful artistic sensibility. He paved the way for adult entertainment to become acceptable to mainstream America, and companies like Vivid have followed the path he laid out. He was without parallel in his art direction of Penthouse and succeeded in balancing portfolios of beautiful women with exciting editorial content. It was an act that was very hard to follow and no one succeeded as well as he did.” Writing in New York Magazine, Anthony Haden Guest said, “Bob Guccione pushed the soft-core envelope, building one of the most profitable porn empires in the world.”

Services for Mr. Guccione will be private.