I’ve come to a casino in the capitol of Nevada for the memorial of a dead pimp. Smart money says he’s also about to be elected as a state lawmaker. But since he’s dead, if he wins public office, he’ll have to be replaced. First, though, he must be memorialized.
Carson City is a sparse rural town. It’s an unglamorous place to celebrate a man famous for his outsized ego and legal daring. This, however, is where they’ve decided to commemorate the life and legacy of Dennis Hof, the man most recently nicknamed the “Trump from Pahrump.” The question is, of course: How much should anyone celebrate a man who goes to the grave with a fresh rape allegation and numerous other sexual assault accusations?
As I walk up to Casino Fandango, which sits along an asphalt continuum of car dealerships, motel chains and fast-food restaurants, the Bee-Gees blare from the parking lot speakers in their disco-era falsetto. It seems fitting. A pimp’s funeral feels very 1970s. Inside, the air tastes of stale cigarette smoke. I step past retirees busy feeding their retirements into slot machines, one quarter at a time. It’s noon on a Saturday.
I wander my way through the casino and its avenues of neon and noise, trying to find The Royal Crown Room where the memorial for Hof will be held. Six hundred people are expected as a guests. They’re easy to spot. Many wear black. Their faces are somber. None of them look eager to be interviewed. Except for one.
The tall black man rocking a long white pimp suit meets my interview request with a broad, familiar smile. He says, “You and I may be the only brown people in here.”
I ask the pimp his name.
“They call me Gangster Brown, from Oakland, California. Dennis Hof blessed me and Divine Brown. Do you remember Divine Brown? I’m the gentlemen that she was with at the time on June 27, 1995.”
He’s referencing Hugh Grant’s sex scandal in 1995, when the British actor was arrested for soliciting a prostitute (i.e., Brown) on Sunset Boulevard.
With unmistakable pride, Gangster Brown says, “Dennis Hof was a personal friend of mine. Had me do the MSNBC Rita Cosby news show. I said, ‘Dennis, why should I do the Rita Cosby news show? I’m not in trouble. If I get on the news before I’m in trouble, I’m gonna get in trouble. I don’t wanna do it.’ He said, ‘Trust me.’ And I ain’t never looked back.”
Gangster Brown tells me he got into the pimp game in 1974, and thanks to Divine Brown and Hof, he was able to retire in 2002. Now he has a Curtis Mayfield tribute band. “I own some houses in Bakersfield. Some apartment buildings in Oakland. I just take care of my grandkids and have fun,” he says with a healthy, warm laugh — a grandfather’s laugh.
Again, it’s a life that Hof very much helped provide. “Everywhere else talks about a man manipulating a woman, a pimp, a this, a that, but Dennis Hof was a caucasian gentleman who still embraced us, who endorsed us, even though we come from the streets. That’s when we learned it ain’t about being on the street, it’s about the money. For you and your girl to have nice things, to be able to retire with something. That’s what I learned from him.”
Another satisfied laugh. He learned to beat the Man — the Dennis Hof way.
* * * * *
Early mourners wait for the memorial to begin, clustered in small circles of conversation. I approach an older man. He sits with his back to a video poker machine as he chews on a cigar the size of a horse dick. With a thick puff of smoke, he declines to speak with “the media.” He says the words with a sinister snarl.
“You’re not supposed to be in here,” says a younger man seated next to the older man with the cigar. He wears a Love Ranch hat and has a super thin Abraham Lincoln beard that provides him with a jawline. He doesn’t like me either, and only speaks to me so the older man doesn’t have to.
“You need to leave!” another older career smoker yells at me with her quickly vanishing lung power.
A few mourners are sent to find a pit boss or floor manager to kick me out of the casino. Moments later, I’m escorted from the premises. I ask the assistant general manager why I’m barred from his casino, but he has no answer. He only knows that 600 people are expected to attend, and I’m not one of them. (Rumor has it, though, Tucker Carlson made the list and was spotted inside The Crown Royal Room.)
Outside, the mirrored casino doors boast a large green sign: NO PRESS ALLOWED IN THE CASINO. But why bar the press from covering the memorial of a man who loved the fickle flame of attention? In particular, Hof liked to brag he put the H-O in HBO. The cable channel filmed two documentaries about his legendary legal brothel, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch: Cathouse (2002) and Cathouse 2: Back in the Saddle (2003). There was also Cathouse: The Series. Altogether, there were 17 episodes of the series, and 10 specials, including Cathouse: The Musical (2008). The explicit programs were popular with viewers in the aughts and launched Bunny Ranch sex workers like Air Force Amy into the mainstream. They also made Dennis Hof a media fixture.
And so, there’s not a total media blackout at the memorial. For example, before it begins, Chuck Muth, Hof’s campaign manager, comes out to speak with the press — even though the only ones here in the designated Press Area are me and a freelance photographer from the Daily Mail. A tall, bald man, with soft unremarkable facial features that are slowly giving way to the tug of gravity, Muth looks a lot like if a penis could wear a suit. He’s a conservative political man who runs campaigns, including both of Hof’s — first as a Libertarian in 2016, and now as a Republican. Today, he’ll be reading Hof’s eulogy. I’ve heard that Hof’s longtime partner, Madam Suzette, wrote it. I ask Muth if there are any touching moments in it.
“As his campaign manager, I knew Dennis mostly from the position of the campaign,” he responds. “We talked almost every single day for the last two years. We texted and emailed. But there was a side of him that was very non-political, very human, very down-to-earth, very personal. That was what Suzette really touched on in the eulogy: the man, not the candidate.”
Because by his own admission Muth didn’t really know Hof all that well, I follow up by asking him what Hof was like as a politician. “He was my favorite! By far my favorite I’ve ever had to work with. He was just a natural. Most candidates are stiff. They don’t understand how to tell stories and relate to people. Dennis was a great storyteller. It made him a very, very good candidate. We knew from day one — even the people who didn’t like the business he was in, if they just met him, he would win them over. And he did.”
Pimps and politicians do tend to have the same gift for emotionally manipulating people, especially with the power of a good story.
“There will never be another one like him. He was an American original,” Muth says, eager to cast Hof in a golden light.
This obviously isn’t everyone’s view of Dennis Hof. The man has many critics. That’s the danger when you call yourself a pimp.
Yet Hof never avoided the label. If anything, he reveled in it. He even wrote an autobiography called Art of the Pimp: One Man’s Quest for Love, Sex and Money. (It’s a play on Trump’s memoir Art of the Deal.) The book isn’t particularly well-written, but reader reviewers overwhelmingly agree: It’s interesting. Hof was often called the King of Pimps by his adoring fans. But when Hof called himself a pimp, he didn’t mean like the men who traffick minors for sex. That, though, is exactly what his political opposition implied.
Muth says they “accused him falsely of selling teenage girls, which was impossible to do because everything is regulated here. You have to get a work card. You have to go through an FBI background check. The mailers were just really, really brutal. And personal. Not only were they insulting to Dennis but to the girls who worked for him. He took it personally more when they attacked the girls for what they did, than him.”
The campaign may have been brutal for his ego, but Hof had endured far worse — and usually on his birthday.
Case in point: On October 13, 2015, the day before Hof’s 69th birthday, former NBA superstar Lamar Odom infamously collapsed at the Love Ranch after a sex-and-drug binge. He nearly died. Luckily for him, a pair of quick-thinking sex workers were able to save his life before the EMTs could arrive. They scooped foamy blood from his mouth to clear his air passageway. They placed ice on his balls to shock his system. In all, he would suffer 12 strokes and six heart attacks before somehow pulling through.
The next year, on October 14th, after a controlled burn escaped containment, the resulting wildfire consumed Hof’s multimillion dollar mountain dream home.
Then this year, on October 16, just two days after his birthday, Hof died. He was 72. For what it’s worth, he passed away in the very same suite and bed that Odom nearly died in three years earlier.
Says Muth, “I gotta tell you, I was up here with him on his birthday — this would’ve been 2016 — I was staying up here in a suite next to where his bungalow was. He called at 5 o’clock, 5:30. He said, ‘Come on over.’ So I walked over, and he said, ‘My house burned down. I gotta stop having birthdays because bad stuff happens every year I have a birthday.’”
Guess Hof got his wish. No more birthdays.
* * * * *
“I was the last guy he texted,” says Emory Lesco between sips of soda. “I worked at the Bunny Ranch. And then I worked at the Love Ranch South. They were great. We had a lot of fun. I knew Dennis really, really well.”
“What did that last text say?” I ask.
“It was like 11 o’clock at night, and he said, ‘I’m in bed. I’m bangin’ the Latin.’ That’s Dennis!” Lesco laughs. He sounds like Barney from The Flintstones, if the cartoon sidekick had a pack-a-day smoking habit.
“The Latin” is Dasha Dare. Here she is with Hof from a tweet she posted in his memory:
Lesco tells me he was at the Love Ranch the night Hof passed away. But because Hof was already in bed when Lesco arrived, Lesco went to see one of the brothel’s other famous residents instead — porn legend Ron Jeremy. (Flavor Flav was also on the premises that evening.) “We stayed maybe two or three minutes, then we left,” Lesco says. “The wife gets a call the next morning: ‘Dennis passed away.’
“One of the girls who used to work at the Love Ranch South called my wife — she also used to work at the Love Ranch South. She’s 27,” he says with a proud smile. “We have a baby now. He’s great. We have a four-year old. Dennis was like, ‘I’m so glad you’re happy.’”
“Dennis was a true gentleman,” Lesco continues. “If you’ve ever looked up the definition — a true lady or a gentleman just makes everybody around them feel comfortable. That’s the definition. Dennis always made everybody feel comfortable. I’d say that was the biggest thing Dennis taught me.”
But what of the multiple women who have accused Hof of sexual assault?
The most vocal one is Jennifer O’Kane. When Hof died, she told The New Yorker she was upset he never went to jail for his crimes, saying, “I’m sorry he wasn’t somebody’s bitch.” She later added that her “first reaction when I heard he was dead was excitement. Then happiness. Then I didn’t believe it. I had to have someone go to the scene. They sent me a picture of his body, covered. That’s what it took for me to believe: my rapist is dead.”
I ask Lesco if he knew O’Kane.
“No, not at all,” he says, quickly. “Who’s she?”
She worked for Hof in his Love Ranch South brothel in Crystal, Nevada, not far from Pahrump. It’s the same brothel Lesco’s wife worked. O’Kane claims that on several occasions, Hof sexually assaulted her. One assault took place on New Year’s Eve 2010. O’Kane claims Hof locked her in a room and sodomized her against her will.
O’Kane’s room, which she had rented from Hof, had no windows, no bathroom (just a sink), and only one door. “I had no way to leave,” O’Kane told me. Hof forced her to have sex with him. “I found out what anal sex was,” she said. “That’s what he did to me. There was blood. He then penetrated the front — not clean.” Hof did not wear a condom. “When he was done, he told me to clean up. And I was just crying. I cried and cried. It hurt. And he left.”
Before I can finish citing these allegations, Lesco lets loose a Bronx cheer. It’s a loud, lip-shaking raspberry. “Yeah, right,” he laughs. “Dennis? No. No, un-huh. One guy who — no, un-huh. There’s no way.”
I point out that O’Kane isn’t alone. At least three other women have come forward, each alleging that Hof sexually assaulted them. Lesco assures me that that doesn’t sound like the Dennis Hof he knew. “Every girl wanted to be with him. And the ones who didn’t, he just blew off and moved on. He never forced himself, or did anything to anybody like that. Not ever. That I knew of at least. I can only go by what I knew, but I can’t see that. Not Dennis.”
* * * * *
Willow Love is a sex worker who also knew Hof really well. She worked for him at his brothels, and today she’s come to pay her respects. But she’s arrived too late to be allowed into the memorial. In order to honor his memory, she speaks with me. He would’ve wanted that. She wouldn’t normally speak to the press but she’s willing to make an exception, this one time. For him.
Love speaks in a lazy cadence made up of soundbites, seemingly chemically influenced. “Dennis was a revolutionary. Dennis changed the game. He was, uh, concerned with our families. He was concerned with our, uh, lifestyles. He was concerned with, uh, how we were doing. He always allowed us to be us. He allowed me — I worked when I was pregnant.”
This attitude seems common. Hof is always measured by what he did for whomever is speaking. No one else’s experience of him seems to matter. As such, Love continues with her slurred praise of her former pimp. “He always let me work the hours I wanted to work,” she explains. “Days I wanted to work. If I didn’t show up — as opposed to these other houses — I was never fined. Any problems I had with a boyfriend, with the law, with anything, he was always there for us.”
“One thing,” Love says, interrupting herself. “Here’s a quote of Dennis Hof: ‘You can pick your nose. You can pick your friends. But you can’t pick your family.’ Dennis chose us as his family. He picked us as his family. He loved us.”
Then what about the multiple allegations of rape? Does she think there’s any truth to them?
“No,” she proclaims. “He had his choice of every single girl that was there. But there’s no way Dennis had to force himself on anybody.”
“He looked out for us,” she adds. “Any girl that came with a pimp, you know what? He scared those pimps off. That man was a good man. He’s not perfect, but he’s a… good man. There ain’t no pimp gonna come after him. He’s got the money — and the power — to overpower any of those guys.”
There’s an aching sadness in how much Love conflates feeling protected with feeling loved.
“Would you like to hear a personal story?” she asks.
“My stepdaughter has been — was struggling. She was on the track in Vegas. And all that.”
By track, Love means working the street as a sex worker, vulnerable, unprotected. Love grows visibly choked up as she tells me this story, the first deeply authentic emotion I’ve experienced from her. “He was the one who got on the phone, personally, and said, ‘We’ll pick you up. We’ll drive you here. We’ll get you safe. We’ll get you away from these pimps. All of these pimps are just trying to intimidate you like you’re nothing.’ But you know who is more intimidating? Dennis Hof.”
Love lets his name fill the air until it falls away, replaced by the sound of an F-150 pulling out of the parking garage.
Speaking of family, Hof has two children. But despite all the talk of the family he’s created at his brothels, he’s estranged from his own grown daughters. They’re not here today. I ask Love why.
“He disowned his daughters and didn’t want them to be part of his life. They manipulated him.”
The master manipulator got out-pimped by his own daughters, how so?
“Okay, so Dennis put properties in other people’s names. Things like that. He put something in his daughters’ names. Maybe as a rental or something. They went and sold that — out from under his feet. He found out about it, and you know, he let that happen. He was like, ‘That’s the last time.’”
Ultimately, he picked women who earned him money as his new family and disowned his actual daughters for taking something from him. Or, you know, he chose the earners over his own blood.
* * * * *
As people begin to trickle out of the memorial, one woman stands out. You can’t miss her. She’s a world famous sex worker. And she’s eagerly coming over to talk to the press. She yells her name at us, like she’s being announced upon her entrance to a grand ball, “I’m Air Force Amy!”
As mentioned earlier, Amy gained fame from the Cathouse TV shows and specials. To this day, she remains a beloved figure in the world of sex — a business partner of Hof’s for almost 20 years. I tell her that some of the other girls, like Love, have been quoting a line of hers. She knows which one and is quick to deliver it her way: “Dennis took us from guilt and shame… to glamour and fame.” The pivot in the middle is key. It’s graceful as a verbal pirouette.
“He broke us out of our chains in the brothels of northern Nevada,” Amy goes on to explain. “In southern Nevada, there were still ordinances where girls weren’t allowed to leave the houses. Okay? And I asked him, ‘Dennis, are you going to be able to get the lockdown conditions changed now that you’re running for politics?’ He said, ‘As an assemblyman? Uh, no. But will I know the right people who can? Yes.’ And that’s all he wanted to do.”
“He was kind of a martyr for us because — my feeling is, he didn’t get into politics for career, ego or anything else, like media. He could call anyone and say ‘Bunny Ranch.’ Bam! We’re on the media. He didn’t do it for his ego, because everyone was slamming him. He didn’t do it for fame, he’s already got that. He did it to get more rights for more people.”
That’s not exactly true. Hof made it very clear that he was running to oppose the commerce tax. If he paid taxes based on what he netted — or what he paid after he took care of his expenses (i.e., the girls) — that bill would be much lower than paying taxes on his gross revenues. In other words, he wasn’t protecting his girls as much as he was protecting his wallet.
“Was it weird to the people of Nevada that a pimp wanted to be their Republican lawmaker?” I ask.
Amy considers the question briefly, and says, “Well, when you’re in sales, you don’t usually take one side of the aisle or the other. I think he just went into the area that fit. And where he could do the most good.”
As we consider the future, I wonder if Amy plans to keep working now that Dennis is gone.
“I’ve still got one guy who comes out every other month and gives me, like, $70,000.”
I’m not good at math, but I can do this in my head. That’s $420,000 per year. Is this some wild international money man? Some crown prince?
“No. He’s a chemical engineer. I’m trying to find two of them,” she laughs.
* * * * *
As the sun dips below the desert horizon, I leave the valet lot of the Casino Fandango. The sky is awash in an orgy of pinks, oranges and blues. At a nearby Super 8, I stop and speak with Terri, the night manager. She knows who Hof is, or was. Like many here in rural northern Nevada, she’s white, middle-aged and working class. She’s also what most anyone would call a decent person. “I didn’t know him personally, but I know about him,” she tells me. “I just know about him owning the brothels.”
“Do people around here like him?”
“They seem to. People are excited when they run into him at a restaurant. People who have stayed here in this motel know him. Even though I live by the brothels, I’ve never met him. But I’ve never heard anything bad about him.”
She steps outside to have a smoke. I assume she’s done speaking with me until she says unprompted, “I live behind Nevada 51, which is one of Dennis Hof’s clubs. There’s so many brothels up there, where I live. There’s a street that has red lights, it’s like a whole cul-de-sac.”
“Do the brothels invite any violence or crime or trouble to the area?”
“I haven’t seen that. Just the normal drugs. Because there’s a lot of meth here. And heroin.”
“But no pimps breaking into a brothel to steal back a girl who got away, no drunk military guys getting too heated and fighting, no violence or crime like that?”
“No, no, no. It’s not like in California,” she says, laughing. “And the strippers I’ve met are really, really nice girls. Just making a living. Y’know? I mean, jeez, if I made a thousand dollars a night, heck yeah!”
She exhales and then crushes her cigarette with the toe of her comfortable orthopedic shoe. “At least he died happy,” she says with a joyful chuckle.
He certainly died the way he lived — with a sex worker underneath him.
* * * * *
A friend of mine is a carpenter and contractor in the Tahoe/Truckee area. When I tell him I’m in town, he crosses the California border, barrels into Reno and heads south to Carson City. It’s a familiar drive for him. In fact, he was here yesterday. He’s working on yet another multi-million dollar dream home for the ultra-wealthy. He tells me that the Trump years have been very, very good for him, financially-speaking.
As we drive around Carson City in his work truck, I ask him about Hof and his legacy. What do the ultra-rich think of the dead pimp and politician? Has he heard them mention him?
“Yeah, for sure. I’d say 51 percent of the population hates him, and the other 49 percent thinks he’s either some sort of hero pimp, or a financial hero.”
“But now that he’s gone, will the rich Republicans in the area want to shut down the brothels?”
“No,” my friend says, “I don’t think they’re real conservatives. I think the last real Christian died on a cross.” He laughs hard to himself. Construction site humor.
“I think they’re all fake. But if it were up to me, I’d get rid of the gambling and prostitution. Not for legal or moral reasons, though. It’s just because the city’s a shithole because of it.”
“Look at places like Denver, which is located right next to a ski area,” he continues. “Look at places like Salt Lake City. In terms of high-elevation cities, those cities are really progressive. They’re clean. They’re relatively crime-free. The population’s educated. Homelessness is pretty low. Meanwhile, Reno is… I don’t want to say it’s a shithole, but this place sucks. It’s never gonna get clean.”
He sounds like the old conservatives I grew up listening to: Cleaning up the world, not making it filthier. The shithole part sounds more like modern conservatives.
“Ask yourself: Of these high-elevation cities, does Salt Lake City look like shit? Does Denver look like shit? Reno could be those cities. It could be Vancouver. I’m finishing houses that sell for $16 million to $25 million. There’s a lot of wealth here.”
All of these high-elevation cities and their politics are certainly changing — they’re shifting blue. Does he think that’s the root factor in Reno and Carson City, the Republicans here don’t want to lose their grip, and they’re willing for their community to be kinda shitty so long as they hold on to power?
Dennis Hof certainly represents the short-sighted interests of conservatives in this area. They like him. He beat the incumbent in the party primary. Then, last Tuesday, he went on to win the general election against his opponent, Lesia Romanov. A dead pimp was just elected as a Republican lawmaker.
“Every pimp’s a Republican though,” my contractor friend says, as if he’s thought a lot about this. “Whether they want to admit or not. You show me a pimp, I’ll show you a Republican.”
We both laugh.
The greatest thing a pimp or a modern Republican politician offers is the same thing: protection from what others fear. Neither cares about the social conditions that create those fears. Why would they? They profit by offering protection in a hostile world. Dangerous shitholes are good for business.
As we merge onto the freeway, headed north to Reno, my friend looks out at the valley below, daydreaming about what this place could become next. Looking out the other window, the life and death of Dennis Hof comes fully into focus for me: A pimp can only exist in an world that’s dangerous for women. And that danger, while far from gone, is definitely dissipating. Here, in fact, is one sure sign: During the general election in which Nevada elected Hof, its first pimp-politician, Americans elected 100 women to Congress. It’s clear which side is winning.
So, yes, it’s true that there will never be another like Dennis Hof.
But let’s call that a clear sign of progress.