Playboy founder Hugh Hefner dead at 91

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, the pipe-smoking hedonist who revved up the sexual revolution in the 1950s and built a multimedia empire of clubs, mansions, movies and television, has died aged 91.


He died peacefully from natural causes on Wednesday night at the Playboy Mansion, Playboy Enterprises said in a statement.

Hefner was sometimes characterised as an oversexed Peter Pan as he kept a harem of young blondes, which was chronicled in The Girls Next Door, a TV reality show that aired in 2005-10.

Hefner settled down somewhat in 2012 at 86 when he took Crystal Harris, who was 60 years younger, as his third wife.

He said his swinging lifestyle might have been a reaction to growing up in a repressed family.

Hefner’s “Playboy philosophy” based on romance, style and casting off mainstream mores came to life at the legendary parties in his mansions – first in his native Chicago, then in Los Angeles.

Hefner created Playboy as the first stylish glossy men’s magazine and as well as nude fold-outs, it had intellectual appeal, with top writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov and Alex Haley for men who liked to say they did not buy the magazine just for the pictures.

“I’ve never thought of Playboy quite frankly as a sex magazine,” Hefner told CNN in 2002.

“I always thought of it as a lifestyle magazine in which sex was one important ingredient.”

The magazine’s rabbit silhouette became one of the world’s best-known logos and the waitresses in his nightclubs were instantly recognisable in their low-cut uniforms with bow ties, cotton tails and rabbit ears.

After writing for Esquire, Hefner married and worked at Children’s Activities magazine when he began plotting what would become Playboy.

In 1953, a time when US states could ban contraceptives and the word “pregnant” was not allowed on I Love Lucy, Hefner published the first issue, featuring naked photos of Marilyn Monroe (taken years earlier) and a promise of “humour, sophistication and spice”.

As the magazine took off, it was attacked from the right because of the nudity and from the left by feminists who said it reduced women to sex objects.

However, Playboy flourished during the sexual revolution and into the 1970s, when monthly circulation hit seven million.

He ran into trouble in the 1980s with competition from more-explicit magazines, and Playboy’s social impact faded considerably by the 21st century.

After suffering a stroke in 1985, Hefner made daughter Christie chief executive of Playboy Enterprises. She stepped down in 2009.

In 2015, Playboy ceased publishing images of naked women, citing the proliferation of online nudity, but restored them earlier this year.

In 2016, one of Hefner’s neighbours bought the Playboy Mansion for $US100 million, with the understanding Hefner could stay there until he died.

Hefner is survived by his wife, Crystal, and four grown children: Christie, David, Marston and Cooper, who serves as chief creative officer at the company.