Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, 91, passed away at his residence in Chicago on Thursday, Playboy Enterprises said in a statement. Hefner, who died from natural causes, was surrounded by his loved ones at the time of death. Hefner, who founded Playboy magazine in 1953, was known for his flamboyant lifestyle. The magazine, in a tribute to its founder, tweeted a picture of Hefner with his quote: “Life’s too short to be living somebody else’s dream.”
“Hugh M Hefner, the American icon who in 1953 introduced the world to Playboy magazine and built the company into one of the most recognisable American global brands in history, peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones. He was 91 years old,” the statement read, reported PTI.
Hefner’s son, Cooper, confirmed the news, and said, “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. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognisable and enduring in history. He will be greatly missed by many.”
The first issue of the Playboy Magazine was published in 1953, featuring naked images of legendary Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe. The magazine, which soon became a big success, was instrumental in breaking notions on sex and nudity. The controversial magazine — with its logo showing a bunny face with a bow tie — was targeted by feminists who claimed it reduced women to sex objects. However, through the magazine, he also spoke out against censorship and promoted several libertarian causes.
In an interview with The New York Times in 1992, Hefner was asked what he was proudest of, to which he said: “That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.”
Within a year of circulation, the magazine had nearly 200,000 subscribers, according to The Associated Press. And by the 1970s, the magazine had over 7 million readers. At the turn of the century, the rise of the Internet impacted the sales of the Playboy magazine. Citing the proliferation of nudity online, he stopped publishing images of naked women in 2015, reported AP.
In an interview in 1974, Hefner said: “Well, if we hadn’t had the Wright brothers, there would still be airplanes. If there hadn’t been an Edison, there would still be electric lights. And if there hadn’t been a Hefner, we’d still have sex. But maybe we wouldn’t be enjoying it as much. So the world would be a little poorer. Come to think of it, so would some of my relatives.”
Hefner’s received several awards for his publication, including the International Publishing Award from the International Press Directory in London in 1996. In 1998, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Magazine Editors. In 2001, he was inducted into the New York Friars Club as an honorary Friar. He also received the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the highest honour of the Magazine Publishers of America, in 2002. He holds two records in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest running editor of a magazine and for having the largest scrapbook collection, which currently consists of more than 2900 volumes.
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In 1985, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed. The reins of the magazine was given to Hefner’s daughter, Christie. Later, in 2014, Hefner’s son Cooper took over from her. Cooper was instrumental in resuming nude images in the publication.
Hefner has often cited his upbringing as a reason for his publication. Born to devout Methodist parents in 1926, he claimed he was never showed “love in a physical or emotional way.” At an early age, he began questioning “a lot of that religious foolishness about man’s spirit and body being in conflict”.
“Part of the reason that I am who I am is my Puritan roots run deep. My folks are Puritan. My folks are prohibitionists. There was no drinking in my home. No discussion of sex. And I think I saw the hurtful and hypocritical side of that from very early on,” he said in an interview to AP in 2011. Hefner says he began reading Esquire in middle-school, a magazine of sex and substance, which he later drew inspiration from.
Known for his flamboyant lifestyle, Hefner once said he had sex with over a thousand women, including many featured in his magazine. He was married twice and engaged once, but claimed at the age of 85 that “he never really found his soulmate.”
Hefner was first married in 1949 to Mildred Williams. They had two children. They got divorced in 1958. His second marriage was to Kimberley Conrad, the 1989 Playmate of the Year. The couple had two children. On the eve of his second marriage, Hefner reportedly said, “I’ve had a bachelor party for 30 years. Why do I need one now?” He got divorced for the second time in 2010.
He was engaged to Crystal Harris for a brief period in 2011. But the wedding was called off. They later married at the end of 2012.
Few months later, he said, “Maybe I should be single. But I do know that I need an ongoing romantic relationship. In other words, I am essentially a very romantic person, and all I really was looking for, quite frankly, with the notion of marriage was continuity and something to let the girl know that I really cared.”