Hugh Hefner, founder of ‘Playboy,’ dead at 91

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine and cultural provocateur who pushed sexuality into the mainstream in the 50s and helped usher in the sexual revolution of the 60s, died at his famed Playboy Mansion home in Los Angeles, Playboy has confirmed. He was 91.

On a shoestring budget and an idea, Hefner and his associates in 1953 founded Playboy, which became a popular brand almost overnight — not just publishing one of the most well-known men’s magazines, but launching a media empire that spanned TV, politics and just about all areas of the zeitgeist.

According to a statement by Playboy Enterprises, Hefner died of natural causes and was surrounded by loved ones.

“My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom,” Cooper Hefner, chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises and the son of Hugh, said in a statement.

“He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history. He will be greatly missed by many, including his wife Crystal, my sister Christie and my brothers David and Marston and all of us at Playboy Enterprises.”

The creation of Playboy

Following years of work in the publishing industry, including a stint as a writer at Esquire, Hefner started Playboy because he believed there was a market for anupscale men’s magazine that blended racy nude photoshoots with a sampling from the day’s most intellectual and influential writers. And he was right.

The first issue was published in December 1953, funded from the furniture he put up as collateral for a loan and borrowing from friends and family. It became an instant hit. 

Hugh Hefner holding the first issue of Playboy.

Image: playboy

Marilyn Monroe was featured on the cover and as a centerfold in the first Playboy, which he described as a “good choice” in a CNN interview in 2010.  While Playboy is known for women in its pages, it also published fiction from writers such as Ian Fleming, Margaret Atwood, Jack Kerouac and Kurt Vonnegut. 

There were also interviews, dubbed the “Playboy Interview,” with the likes of jazz great Miles Davis, Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King. Hefner’s insistence on socially progressive commentary and interview subjects came to define the brand as much as its centerfolds; he was an early proponent of gay rights and other forms of social activism that were way ahead of the times.

In the late 1990s, the influence of men’s magazines like Playboy and Penthouse waned, and Hefner retreated from the spotlight, rarely leaving his famed Los Angeles mansion. But he re-emerged in 2005 as a reality TV figure with The Girls Next Door, which followed his complex polyamorous relationships with the women featured in his magazine. Playboy now operates websites, the U.S. magazine and more than 20 licensed international editions.

Reaction to the death of an ‘entrepreneur and innovator’

As a pioneer in adult entertainment, Hefner’s passing was met with melancholy from industry heavyweights, entertainers, and former Playmates.

The fate of the Playboy Mansion

Hefner’s famous Playboy Mansion, a five-acre property which sits in the Holmby Hills of Los Angeles, was sold in 2016 to Daren Metropoulos for reportedly more than $100 million. The 29-room mansion measures 21,987 square feet, and was the home to Hefner’s infamously lavish parties, attended by models and celebrities.

The Playboy Mansion in 2005.

Image: FilmMagic

Part of the deal was that Hefner would be able to reside at the home until he passed away, according to E News.

“The Playboy Mansion has been a creative center for Hef as his residence and workplace for the past 40 years, as it will continue to be if the property is sold,” a Playboy Enterprises representative told the news outlet at the time.

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