Dennis Hof passed away last week at his Love Ranch brothel after a night of celebrating his 72nd birthday and political campaign. The days following have been filled with an outpouring of discourse about his death, much of which is contentious as people reflect on the so-called legacy Hof left behind. Between his business empire and celebrity fame, Hof exposed the nation to regulated prostitution and Nevada’s brothels in a novel and undeniably impactful way. His celebrity existed within a paradox of tolerance—rural communities in Nevada were often against the brothels, which perhaps itself contributed to his ability to stay in the spotlight. “I’m always looking for a new angle and something funny to keep my name and the name of the Bunny Ranch in the national media,” Hof told the Reno Gazette Journal in 2005.
This quest for the limelight was achieved for some time through exposing legal full-service sex work. However, it recently took a political turn with Hof winning the Republican spring primary for a seat as an assemblyman. His name is to remain on the upcoming November ballot for the Nevada Assembly, and many are saying he is set to win, despite being dead. With him running on a Republican ticket, conservatives are still likely to vote for him so as to ensure a Republican gets appointed to the seat afterwards.
Much of the coverage of his death is fixated around one question that everyone seems to be asking: are his brothels continuing operation, and if so, under whom? Madam Suzette (Suzette Cole) is reported to be receiving Hof’s brothels but, even with the inheritance, the Nevada system has several requirements in place that will need to be met before she can run them legally. In fact, the Love Ranch brothel was shuttered shortly after his death. Hof’s executive assistant, Zack Hames, appears confident in moving forward with the operation of Hof’s brothels, commenting that “it’s business as usual.” Other coverage has focused more on the polarized reactions to his passing, illustrating how while some are celebrating it, others are deeply grieving his loss. This split is highly visible in the sex work community.