At 79 years old, Bob Guccione has this physical status:
Penthouse began publication in 1965 in the United Kingdom and in North America in 1969, an attempt to compete with Hugh Hefner's Playboy. Although Playboy had always had a liberal bent and championed the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice causes, Guccione offered editorial content that was more sensational, and the magazine's writing was far more investigative than other men's magazines, with stories about government cover-ups and scandals. Writers such as Craig S. Karpel, James Dale Davidson and Ernest Volkman, as well as the critically acclaimed Seymour Hersh, exposed numerous scandals and corruption at the highest levels of the United States government. On the other hand, Playboy retained a certain conservatism and embraced mainstream American consumerism rather than rejecting it. During the late 1960s, feminist groups criticized the magazine for supporting women's liberation only in terms of making them free to engage in sexual relationships with men. While Playboy devoted extensive print to covering sports, one of Hugh Hefner's great passions, Guccione had no interest in them and never bothered discussing sporting events or athletes in Penthouse, instead preferring to cover the art world. The magazine was founded on humble beginnings. Owing to his lack of resources, Guccione personally photographed most of the models for the magazine's early issues. Without 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 at 14-16 East 67th Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side was said to be the largest private residence in the borough 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 height of the sexual revolution in the 1970s. He reportedly once had his bodyguards eject a local radio personality who had been hired as a DJ and jumped 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; it was the first to show female pubic hair, followed by full-frontal nudity and then the exposed vulva and anus. Up to the end of the 1960s, it was not acceptable to display anything more than a female's buttocks or breasts in mainstream publications and anything more risked obscenity charges. Only low-budget underground magazines displayed female genitals or explicit poses. However, the counterculture movement led to an increasingly liberated sexual attitude after which a series of court rulings struck down most legal restrictions on pornography. 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's case, this led to her forced resignation as Miss America 1984. The September 1984 issue in which Williams was first featured also included a layout with pornographic actress Traci Lords, who was only 15 when the photo shoot was done and was later revealed to be underage throughout most of her career. In the late 1990s, the magazine began to show more "fetish" content such as urination, bondage and "facials."
In the early 1970s, Guccione invested around US $45 million in construction of Haludovo Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel resort in Malinska, (island Krk near Rijeka) on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia. He invested an additional $500,000 in advertisement. Despite Yugoslavia being nominally a communist country, it encouraged foreign investments. The entire project was designed by Yugoslav architect Boris Magaš and realized through Brodokomerc, a local company. Prior to that, the project needed to be authorized through a so-called workers' council, a process which Guccione described as "ridiculously easy". The hotel was officially opened in 1972. Staff included around 50 Penthouse Pets, and the guests included the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. However, the hotel went bankrupt the very next year.
In 1976, Guccione used about US $17.5 million of his personal fortune to finance the controversial historical epic erotic film, Caligula, with Malcolm McDowell in the title role and a supporting cast including Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole. The film, released in late 1979, was produced in Italy (made at the 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.
In 1982, Guccione was listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people, with a reported $400 million net worth. 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.
Guccione's editorial content was praised and recognized by some in the academic field. In 1975, for example, he was honored by Brandeis University for focusing "his editorial attention on such critical issues of our day as the welfare of the Vietnam veteran and problems of criminality in modern society."
Guccione was also praised by certain professional groups and associations for his dealings with them. In April 1978 he was named "Publisher of the Year" by the Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association in gratitude for his "leadership, his fair treatment and his continuing friendship with our members."
In 2013, director Barry Avrich made a film about Guccione's life entitled Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2013. It was later broadcast in Canada on The Movie Network and Movie Central and in the United States on Epix in November 2013.
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) 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 late 1990s, Penthouse's circulation numbers began to suffer even more.
In 2003, General Media, Penthouse's publisher, filed for bankruptcy protection. Guccione resigned as chairman of the board and CEO of Penthouse International, Inc. The owner of General Media, FriendFinder Networks Inc. itself filed for bankruptcy protection on September 17, 2013. They emerged from bankruptcy protection in December 2013, which eliminated $300 million in debt. As part of the reorganization, the company's shares were deregistered and will no longer trade on the open market. Penthouse Magazine continues to be published.
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 Marc Bell, Jason Galanis, Dr. Fernando Molina, and Daniel C. Stanton.