DALLAS — Bob Guccione, who founded Penthouse magazine and created an erotic corporate empire around it, only to see it crumble as his investments soured and the world of pornography turned toward video and the Internet, died Wednesday. He was 79.
Guccione's family said in a statement that he died at Plano Specialty Hospital in Plano. His wife, April Dawn Warren Guccione, had said he had battled lung cancer for several years.
Penthouse reached the pinnacle of its popularity in September 1984, when it published nude pictures of Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America. Williams, now a singer and actress, was forced to relinquish her crown after the release of the issue, which sold nearly 6 million copies and reportedly made $14 million.
A frustrated artist who once attended a Catholic seminary, Guccione started Penthouse in 1965 in England to subsidize his art career and was the magazine's first photographer. He introduced the magazine to the American public in 1969 at the height of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution.
Penthouse quickly posed a challenge to Hugh Hefner's Playboy by offering a mix of tabloid journalism with provocative photos of nude women, dubbed Penthouse Pets.
"We followed the philosophy of voyeurism," Guccione told The Independent newspaper in London in 2004. He added that he attained a stylized eroticism in his photography by posing his models looking away from the camera.
"To see her as if she doesn't know she's being seen," he said. "That was the sexy part. That was the part that none of our competition understood."
Guccione estimated that Penthouse earned $4 billion during his reign as publisher. He was listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people with a net worth of about $400 million in 1982.