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Do or Die for The Gooch

New York- The Gooch has changed his curlycue hairpiece style since this photo was taken. A feature on Bob Guccione in the current Rolling Stone features him with a sedate combover. The story is that Guccione who lost part of his tongue and voice box to cancer in 1998 [he used to chain smoke five packs of Marlboros a day], had an aide translate his slurred whispers for the magazine piece.

Otherwise Guccione pretty much communicates by e-mails these days. And Guccione rarely leaves the confines of his 45-room mansion off 5th Avenue. He lives exclusively on the 3rd floor [he now pays a $1 a year to live there], and he’s lost just about all of his $500 million fortune. He no longer wears his trademark gold chains around the neck. He can’t eat solid foods and now lives on liquid nutrient Boost fed through a tube directly to a peg in his stomach.

“This is a time when you realize that food is even more important than sex,” Guccione tells his interviewer in a series of four chats. Besides the rise of the Internet, Guccione blames his current woes on the FBI, the Reagan administration and Atlantic City gaming officials.

Guccione got Penthouse off the ground with nary a pot to piss on. By using the mails, Guccione, who lived in London at the time, produced a color brochure filled with pictures of half-naked girls and got cited for sending lewd materials. The publicity, however, got him a wealth of subscription orders which allowed him to float his printing costs.

Otherwise, he got all his magazine contributors to work on credit. Because photogs wanted their money up front, Guccione chose to take the pictures himself. The first issue hit the newsstands in 1965 and sold out within two days. Guccione was three years into his London run when he decided to take on Hugh Hefner and Playboy in the U.S.

In 1969, Guccione took out an ad in the New York Times proclaiming that he was going rabbit hunting. Guccione elected to take on Playboy by showing pubic hair. The only time Guccione ever met Hefner was at a private screening of A Clockwork Orange. According to Guccione, Hefner snubbed him. By July 1977, Guccione drew even with Hefner in magazine circulation and had a personal fortune of about $500 million which is all but gone thanks in part to $65 million of Guccione’s personal money that was lost in an Atlantic City Casino project that never materialized. The Penthouse casino was half under completion when the Atlantic City gaming commission decided that it wouldn’t license him based on a perception that he was part of the Mafia. Guccione subsequently lost $145 million in the Atlantic City venture.

Penthouse reached its nadir in 1984 by selling the single largest number of copies off the newsstand of any publication ever- 5.4 million copies- in the issue that featured Vanessa Williams. Guccione however was hit the following year with an IRS bill for back taxes that totaled $45 million. Then in the 1990s, cable and pay-per-view television further eroded Guccione’s share of the softcore market. Then, with the rise of the Internet, Penthouse’s sales dropped to 600,000 copies a month.

Adding to his woes, in 1998 Guccione discovered that he had cancer. He underwent five laser surgeries and six weeks of radiation. Regarding Jenna Jameson’s attempts to buy Penthouse, Guccione said she came around with investment bankers but was not capable of taking over the $40 million in outstanding bonds that Guccione had.

Meanwhile, the N.Y. Post reports: Bob Guccione will need more than his fanciful spaceship to escape the big jam he faces this week. The bankrupt 73-year-old publisher of Penthouse – known for blowing hundreds of millions on wacky schemes – had once plotted to medically freeze himself aboard a spaceship and travel in space until science could halt the aging process.

These days, however, his dream is to halt the bankruptcy case that is threatening to strip him forever of his magazine and turn him out homeless into the street without a dime.

Guccione – a recluse who’s lost not only his entire $500 million fortune but also his ability to eat foods or speak – lives a gloomy existence sequestered in a few messy rooms on a high floor of his once pristine nine-floor, 45-room mansion off Fifth Avenue.

Colleagues say the only living thing he trusts is his 5-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback Muti, an African word for medicine-man.

Guccione’s lost title to his E. 67th St. mansion – Manhattan’s largest private residence valued at about $37 million – and lives there at the pleasure of a patient investor who purchased the mansion out of hock a few weeks ago for just $24 million, narrowly blocking an eviction that was underway by the sheriff.

Guccione pays $1-a-year rent to live and work there, at least for now.

Attorneys for that investor will go to court here Friday to fight what is perhaps Guccione’s last battle – not so much for Guccione’s comfort, but for control of his X-rated magazine.

The investor – Dr. Enrique Molinas – heir to a $1 billion Mexican soft-drink fortune – wants to use the Penthouse name to build sex clubs. He already operates successful ones in South America.

But Molinas will have to convince the court and beat back a rich, 36-year-old Florida entrepreneur – Marc Bell – who controls the Penthouse empire’s $56.6 million in IOUs that Guccione piled up before filing for bankruptcy eight months ago.

Bell has told the court he’ll pay off all creditors for about $80 million, revive the ailing magazine by dumping Guccione altogether and converting its hard-core, kinky fare to R-rated mainstream spreads. If Molinas loses his fight for Penthouse, he might sell the mansion for a quick profit and evict the out-of-work Guccione.

Even Guccione’s granting a rare interview to Rolling Stone for its April issue, was subject to ridicule. In the Rolling Stone piece, he told how he Rolling Stone said his remark – “This is a time when you realize that food is even more important than sex” – came out as: “Thish ish a chime innoo reelyshe food ish even maw potent thin sesh.”



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