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The Gooch has New Digs

Florida- Where do the rich and infamous move when they want to re-invent themselves?

South Florida, of course.

Bob Guccione, 75, the founder and publisher of Penthouse until losing it last year in a bankruptcy proceeding, plans to relocate to Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Beyond that, he says, he’ll re-launch Omni, his award-winning science magazine. He plans to do it with the one person he has been estranged from over the last 17 years, his firstborn son, Bob Guccione Jr., 49, founder of the music magazine Spin and the defunct laddie magazine, gear.

The two were reunited through the efforts of the elder Guccione’s fiancée, April Warren, last Christmas Day at his $40 million, 35-room Fifth Avenue mansion in Manhattan. ‘I just said, ‘I am very happy to see you Bobby. Thanks for coming,’ ” said Guccione

“We embraced deeply and never discussed the past,” said Guccione Jr., a devout Catholic who for years prayed for his father’s forgiveness.

According to Guccione Sr., the estrangement — long chronicled in the national media — came about in the late 1980s when Bob Jr. took control of Spin, which his father had bankrolled.

“Throughout the years he always tried to reach out to me, but the Sicilian in me would not allow it,” Guccione Sr. said.

Outside of Bob Jr. and a daughter, Tonina, Guccione remains estranged from his other three adult children for “betrayals” he will not discuss.

“I love all of my children, and I suppose there is room in my heart to forgive all but one of them,” he said.

Long before becoming the East Coast rival of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner, the Brooklyn-born Guccione contemplated becoming a Catholic priest and briefly attended a seminary, but his passion for the fine arts and hedonism soon took over.

He traveled Europe, honing his craft as a painter, photographer and writer, later channeling those talents in London where he founded Penthouse in March 1965.

The magazine, best known for his trademark soft-focus nudes, muckraking journalism, and seamy confessional letters, became a hit.

After out-selling Playboy in London, Guccione relocated operations to Manhattan in 1969.

Hefner and Guccione’s magazines — which sold millions every month — were soon locked in a fierce circulation battle. By 2002, Hefner’s empire survived, but Guccione’s didn’t.

Guccione, who throughout the ’80s was listed as one of America’s richest men in the annual Forbes 500 list, folded all of his non-sex magazine titles and sold his $80 million art collection to keep Penthouse afloat. His beloved wife and business partner of 32 years, Kathy Keeton, died in 1997 and Guccione — who chain-smoked 100 cigarettes a day — was soon diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer.

He credits extensive laser surgery, radiation therapy, and especially hydrazine sulfate, a controversial cancer drug not available in the United States, with saving his life.

“Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease,” said Guccione, who now depends on a feeding tube, which Warren administers.

In 2003, he almost lost his mansion, where he has lived since 1975, but his friend Mexican billionaire Luis Enrique Molina, came to the rescue. Molina paid off the debt, allowing Guccione to live there until the day he dies.

But Guccione says maintaining the six-story mansion is expensive. Property taxes alone are $2 million annually. There is a full-time staff of five, and monthly electric and water bills exceed $14,000 a month. Guccione is convinced he can get a “modest” private waterfront estate in Fort Lauderdale or Miami where he and Warren will be able to fit their multimillion-dollar art collection, Louis XIV and Regency furnishings, and their five Rhodesian Ridgeback attack hounds.

“Despite everything, I managed to sock away quite a bit of money,” Guccione winked.

Guccione expects to move sometime late this year or next year. He hopes to establish himself as South Florida’s best-known national magazine publisher. After Omni, he and his son are planning to launch national magazines dealing with arts and entertainment.

Leaving Manhattan will be tough for Guccione, his son said, but tougher will be trying to have him re-embrace his Catholic faith. Guccione Sr. is an atheist.

“I always tell Dad that his critics were right in one respect — that he is bound for Hell,” Guccione Jr. joked. “Dad is a flawed genius. We are all flawed, but we are all not geniuses.”

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