A legend has passed away in California. A man with a love of women and beautiful photos of sexy women in a monthly glossy magazine became a brand and a household word. Hugh Hefner slipped away into an eternal peace in his bed Wednesday at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, near Beverly Hills, CA. He was 91.
Hugh Hefner, who created Playboy magazine and spun it into a media and entertainment-industry giant — all the while, as its very public avatar, squiring attractive young women (and sometimes marrying them) well into his 80s.
Hugh Marston Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) was an American magazine publisher, editor, businessman, and playboy. He was best known as the editor-in-chief and publisher of Playboy magazine, which he founded in 1953. He was also the founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, the publishing group that operates the magazine. Hefner, a millionaire, was also a political activist and philanthropist in several causes and public issues.
His death was announced by Playboy Enterprises.
Hefner the man and Playboy the brand were inseparable. Both advertised themselves as emblems of the sexual revolution, an escape from American priggishness and wider social intolerance. Both were derided over the years — as vulgar, as adolescent, as exploitative, and finally as anachronistic. But Mr. Hefner was a stunning success from his emergence in the early 1950s. His timing was perfect.
He was compared to Jay Gatsby, Citizen Kane and Walt Disney, but Mr. Hefner was his own production. He repeatedly likened his life to a romantic movie; it starred an ageless sophisticate in silk pajamas and smoking jacket, hosting a never-ending party for famous and fascinating people.
The first issue of Playboy was published in 1953, when Mr. Hefner was 27 years old, a new father married to, by his account, the first woman he had slept with.
He had only recently moved out of his parents’ house and left his job at Children’s Activities magazine.
The brand faded over the years, and by 2015 the magazine’s circulation had dropped to about 800,000 — although among men’s magazines it was outsold by only one, Maxim, which was founded in 1995.
The Playboy Philosophy advocated freedom of speech in all its aspects, for which Mr. Hefner won civil liberties awards. He supported progressive social causes and lost some sponsors by inviting black guests to his televised parties at a time when much of the nation still had Jim Crow laws.
Hugh Marston Hefner was born on April 9, 1926, the son of Glenn and Grace Hefner, Nebraska-born Methodists who had moved to Chicago. Decades later, he still told interviewers that he grew up “with a lot of repression,” and he often noted that his father was a descendant of William Bradford, the Puritan governor of the Plymouth Colony.
His own public playboy persona emerged after he left his wife and children, Christie and David, in 1959. That year his new syndicated television series, “Playboy’s Penthouse,” put the wiry, intense Mr. Hefner, pipe in hand, in the nation’s living rooms. The set recreated his mansion on North State Parkway, rich in sybaritic amusements, where he greeted entertainers like Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, and intellectuals and writers like Max Lerner, Norman Mailer and Alex Haley, while bunches of glamorous young women milled around. (A later TV show, “Playboy After Dark,” was syndicated in 1969 and 1970.)
In the Playboy offices, life imitated image. Mr. Hefner told a film interviewer that in the early days, yes, “everybody was coupling with everybody,” including him. He later estimated that he slept with more than 1,000 women. Over and over, he would say, “I’m the boy who dreamed the dream.”
Mr. Hefner relied more and more on his daughter, Christie, named company president in 1982 and then chief executive, a position she held until 2009. Mr. Hefner suffered a stroke in 1985, but he recovered and remained editor in chief of Playboy, choosing the centerfold models, writing captions and tending to detail with an intensity that led his staff to call him “the world’s wealthiest copy editor.”
In 1989 Mr. Hefner married again, saying he had rethought Woody Allen’s line that “marriage is the death of hope.” His second wife was Kimberley Conrad, the 1989 Playmate of the Year, 38 years his junior. They had two sons: Marston Glenn, born in 1990, and Cooper Bradford, born in 1991.
The couple divorced in 2010, and Mr. Hefner plowed into his work, including the editing of “The Century of Sex,” a Playboy book. When a New York Times interviewer later prodded him about the rewards of marriage, he replied, “Unfortunately, they come from other women.” Meanwhile, to widespread snickering, he became a cheerleader for Viagra, telling a British journalist, “It is as close as anyone can imagine to the fountain of youth.”
The re-emerged Hef reveled in the new century. In 2005 he began appearing on television on the E! channel reality show “The Girls Next Door,” although his onscreen role consisted mostly of peering in while his three young, blond girlfriends planned adventures at the mansion. When the three original “Girls Next Door” went their separate ways after five seasons, he replaced them with three others, also young and blond — and shortly afterward asked one of them, Crystal Harris, to marry him.
Five days before the 85-year old Mr. Hefner was to marry the 25-year-old Ms. Harris in June 2011 — the wedding was to have been filmed by the Lifetime cable channel as a reality special — the bride called it off. Mr. Hefner, by this time a man of the 21st-century media, announced on Twitter, “Crystal has had a change of heart.”
But Ms. Harris had another change of heart, and the two married on New Year’s Eve 2012. On their first anniversary, Mr. Hefner tweeted to his 1.4 million followers, “It’s good to be in love.”
In 2011 Mr. Hefner took Playboy Enterprises private again. Mr. Flanders, after taking over as chief executive in 2009, focused on the licensing business, shrinking the company and raising its profits. The website, cleansed of any whiff of pornography, enjoyed huge growth, while Mr. Hefner, who retained his title and about 30 percent of the company’s stock, cheerfully tweeted news and pictures of the many festivities at the mansion, along with hundreds of photographs from his past, in the glory decades of the ’60s and ’70s.
Mr. Hefner will be buried in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, where he bought the mausoleum drawer next to Marilyn Monroe.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Hefner’s survivors include his daughter, Christie; and his sons, David, Marston and Cooper.