LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Authorities awaited results of an autopsy today to help determine how Althea Flynt, wife of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, died in a bathtub of the couple's mansion.

Coroner's spokesman Bill Gold said initial reports that she had drowned were premature.

Besides an autopsy, Gold said toxological tests will be performed. Those tests, which would reveal whether drugs or alcohol were present in the bloodstream, could take six weeks.

Flynt's nurse, Kikumi Okino, saw Mrs. Flynt, 33, go into a bathroom shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday, police Detective Fred Kahl said. The nurse looked in on her about a half hour later and found her unconscious in the bathtub, Kahl said.

''She took her out of the water and tried to revive her, but there were no signs of life,'' Kahl said.

Flynt, who has used a wheelchair since a 1978 assassination attempt left him paralyzed from the waist down, was in the next room, Kahl said.

Flynt ''was very upset about what happened,'' Okino said. ''He didn't sleep well and can't be disturbed.''

Althea Flynt was president, chief executive officer and publisher of Larry Flynt Publications Inc., her husband's magazine empire. As president of Flynt enterprises, she drew a yearly salary of $1.6 million, her husband said in this month's issue of California Business magazine.

''She's been ill for quite a long time,'' said Flynt family attorney Alan Isaacman, who refused to elaborate on the illness.

The former Althea Leasure was married for 11 years to Flynt, founder of the sexually explicit Hustler magazine. Born to poverty in a Kentucky mining town, she became his fourth wife.

The Flynts met when he hired her, at age 17, as a go-go dancer in his Columbus, Ohio, nightclub. She had been left homeless when she was 8 years old because her father killed her mother, her mother's best friend and her grandfather before turning the gun on himself.

Flynt briefly embraced Christianity in 1977, converted by President Carter's sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton.

But he abandoned it when he was shot during a break in his obscenity trial in Lawrenceville, Ga., in 1978. Suffering from constant pain after the would- be assassin's bullets left him paralyzed and impotent, he began using painkillers. His wife joined him and together they became addicted.

They moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and into a 20-room mansion, disappearing in a drugged seclusion behind fortified walls with armed guards.

''We were slowly committing suicide together, the slow and terrible way,'' she said in an interview.

In 1980 Flynt underwent a delicate spinal operation that ended his pain, and eventually he got off drugs. But his sensational behavior continued.

Flynt was arrested for screaming obscenities while attending oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court and wearing a U.S. flag as a diaper in a Los Angeles federal court.

When Mrs. Flynt accompanied her husband to court, she wore outrageous outfits with her hair dyed green or purple and spiked in the punk style.

She was on probation in Los Angeles for kicking and biting a federal marshal at the courthouse.