Bob Guccione was the founder and publisher of the adult magazine Penthouse.
Did you know that he resigned from his publisher position in November 2003.
Now if you didn’t know, now you know…
( December 17, 1930 – October 20, 2010)
Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione was born in Brooklyn, New York, of Sicilian descent, and raised as a Roman Catholic in Bergenfield, New Jersey. His father Anthony was an accountant. His mother, Nina, was a house wife. He considered, but rejected, entering the priesthood. He attended high school at Blair Academy, a prep school in Blairstown, New Jersey.
Guccione married the first of his three wives, Lilyann Becker, before the age of 20, and had a daughter, Tonina. The marriage soon failed. He left his wife and child to go to Europe, where he wanted to be a painter. He eventually met an English woman, Muriel, moved to London with her, and married her. They had two children, Bob Jr. and Tony. To support his family he managed a chain of laundromats. He eventually got work as a cartoonist on an American weekly newspaper, The London American, while Muriel started a business selling pinup posters. He sometimes created cartoons for Bill Box’s humorous greeting card company, Box Cards. 
Penthouse began publication in 1965 in England and in North America from 1969. The magazine was an attempt to compete with Hugh Hefner‘s Playboy on several levels. One approach Guccione took was offering editorial content that was more sensationalistic than Playboy. The magazine’s writing was aimed more at the middlebrow reader than Hefner’s upscale emphasis, with stories about government cover-ups and scandals. Due to his lack of money and other resources, Guccione himself photographed most of the models for the magazine’s early issues. Lacking professional training, Guccione applied his knowledge of painting to his photography, establishing the diffused, soft focus-look that would become one of the trademarks of the magazine’s pictorials. Guccione would sometimes take several days to complete a shoot.
As the magazine grew more successful, Guccione openly embraced a life of luxury; his former mansion is said to be the largest private residence in Manhattan at 22,000 square feet (2,000 m2). However, in contrast to Hugh Hefner (who threw wild parties at his Playboy Mansions), life at Guccione’s mansion was remarkably sedate even during the hedonistic 1970s. He reportedly once had his bodyguards eject a local radio personality who had been hired as a DJ for jumping into the swimming pool naked.
The magazine’s pictorials offered more sexually explicit content than was commonly seen in most openly sold men’s magazines of the era, being the first to show female pubic hair, then full-frontal nudity, and then the exposed vulva and anus. Penthouse has also, over the years, featured a number of authorized and unauthorized photos of celebrities such as Madonna and Vanessa Lynn Williams. In both cases, the photos were taken earlier in their careers and sold to Penthouse only after Madonna and Williams became famous. In Williams’ case, this led to her forced resignation as Miss America in 1984; the issue in which Williams was first featured also included a layout featuring porn actress Traci Lords, who was later revealed to be underage during most of her porn career (including her Penthouse session). By the early 1990s, the magazine was showing sexual penetration in many of its photo layouts, something the American porn magazine industry did not adopt until later in the decade. In the late 1990s, the magazine began to show “fetish” content such as urination, bondage, and “facials”.
In 1976, Guccione used about US$17.5 million of his personal fortune to finance the controversial historical epic film-cum-hardcore porn flick, Caligula, with Malcolm McDowell in the title role and a supporting cast including Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, and Peter O’Toole. The film, which was eventually released in late 1979, was produced in Italy (made at the legendary Dear Studios in Rome) and was directed by Tinto Brass. Guccione also created the magazines Omni, Viva, and Longevity. Later Guccione started Penthouse Forum which was more textual in content. In the early 2000s, Penthouse published a short-lived comic book spin-off entitled Penthouse Comix featuring sexually explicit stories.
Decline and resignation
Several wildly unsuccessful investments by Guccione — including the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino (which lost $160 million), and a (never-built) nuclear fusion power plant — added to his publishing empire’s financial woes. Guccione’s efforts to regain sales and notoriety, which included attempts to get Monica Lewinsky to pose for the magazine (which was parodied in a sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1998, but didn’t have someone impersonating Guccione) and offering the Unabomber a free forum for his views, failed to increase readership. With the rise of online access to (often free) pornography in the latter 1990s, Penthouse‘s circulation numbers began to suffer even more. In 2003, General Media (the publishing company for Penthouse) declared bankruptcy. Guccione resigned as chairman of the board and CEO of Penthouse International, Inc. The magazine as of 2010 was still in publication, and had an online presence; its circulation was estimated at 500,000, roughly a tenth of what it was at its peak.
In 2006, Guccione sued Penthouse Media Group for fraud, breach of contract, and conspiracy, among other charges. Some of the people named in the case included Jason Galanis, Charles Samel, Marc Bell, Dr. Fernando Molina, and Daniel C. Stanton.
Guccione’s English-reared son, Bob Guccione, Jr. (b. 1956), was given editorship of Spin, but father and son soon fell out over editorial decisions, and Bob Jr. eventually found independent investors to continue the magazine. Father and son remained estranged for a long time, but reportedly reconciled before Bob Guccione, Sr.’s death in 2010.
He married his long-time companion, Kathy Keeton, a native of South Africa. She died in 1997, aged 58, following treatment for advanced cancer. Guccione continued to list her on the Penthouse masthead posthumously as President until he lost control of the magazine. Guccione suffered from cancer himself. He was diagnosed with throat cancer and stated: “My cancer was only a tiny tumor about the size of an almond at the base of my tongue”, he explains. “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…” He was later diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Guccione brought artisans in from France and Italy to build the largest private residence in Manhattan. As a tribute to Guccione the artisans carved both his and his wife’s face into the marble columns near the entrance. According to New York magazine, “It’s one of the biggest private houses in Manhattan, with 30 rooms, and it costs $5 million a year to maintain.” In November 2003, the mansion on Manhattan‘s Upper East Side was foreclosed on by Kennedy Funding of New Jersey, the mortgage holder along with an affiliate of multi billion-dollar hedge fund Elliot Associates of New Jersey. In January 2004, a group of investors came to Guccione’s aid during his Sheriff-enforced eviction. A London-based investor named Jason Galanis lead an investment group that purchased the house for $26.5 million in cash. The house was purchased by NY Real Estate LLC, an entity set up to acquire the mansion. Galanis contributed $2.6 million, and two New York hedge funds, Laurus Funds and Alexandre Asset Management made a mortgage loan of $24 million to NY Real Estate LLC, which was owned by Penthouse International, the parent and debtor-in-possession of General Media.
As a result of the continuing contentious bankruptcy which lasted over a year, the promissory notes due to Laurus were considered in technical breach of covenants which resulted in severe financial penalties in excess of $8 million. Penthouse International elected to forego refinancing the house due to the combination of the penalties and the unfavorable lifetime lease of $1.00/year that was granted to Guccione, which made the property unmarketable. Laurus sued Guccione to take possession of the house from the tenant. It was reportedly sold for $49 Million, well below the asking price of $59 million, to Wall Street financier Philip Falcone.
Guccione also had to sell his country house in Staatsburg, New York. The estate was purchased by actress Uma Thurman and hotelier Andre Balazs.
Guccione also owned a 15-room, Baroque stucco mansion on a 75-acre property on the Hudson River, which was foreclosed upon and sold for $4 million.
While unsuccessful as a recognized artist, Guccione was a painter and a world-renowned collector of fine art. Highlights of the Guccione collection included a portrait by Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) and a portrait of the artist’s son, Paulo, by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). He also owned paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Albrecht Dürer, El Greco, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Edgar Degas, Fernand Léger, Gilbert Stone, Henri Matisse, Jules Pascin, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges Henri Rouault, Chaïm Soutine, and Vincent van Gogh.
The Guccione art collection was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in November 2002 to pay Guccione’s personal debts originally incurred in the Atlantic City venture. The collection was appraised by Christie’s at $59 million two years before. However, September 11, 2001 had depressed the art market and the Guccione collection failed to achieve its appraised price. The aggregate sale price was $19 million, which was used to pay Swiss Re, the lender. Swiss Re sued Guccione in New York State Court for a $4 million shortfall on the loan balance.
Guccione had a history of leveraging his prized asset. He borrowed $20 million from AIG, the insurance company. Subsequently they refinanced with Swiss Re Insurance.
Guccione was once listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people, with $400 million net worth in 1982. An April 2002 New York Times article quoted Guccione as saying that Penthouse grossed $3.5 billion to $4 billion over the 30-year life of the company, with a net income of almost 500 million dollars.
Guccione died of cancer on October 20, 2010, two months before his 80th birthday, at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano, Texas; suffering according to his wife from lung cancer for some time. Two of his children were by his side.
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