Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, has died aged 91.
Hefner was born on April 9, 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, and went on to become a millionaire after founding the influential men’s magazine in 1953.
On Wednesday night the official Playboy Twitter account announced: ‘American Icon and Playboy Founder, Hugh M. Hefner passed away today. He was 91. #RIPHef’.
Hefner’s death was confirmed in a statement from Playboy Enterprises that said he ‘passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones.’
Hefner’s son, Cooper Hefner, who is also the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, 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 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.’
It has also been reported that Hefner’s wife Crystal Harris will inherit nothing after signing an ironclad prenup before their wedding and was never added to his will.
On Wednesday night, as news of Hefner’s death began to circulate, mourners began to gather at the gates of his Playboy Mansion to pay their last respects.
Hefner will be buried in an LA cemetery next to Marilyn Monroe – Playboy’s first-ever cover star – in a plot that Hefner bought in 1992 for $75,000.
In the final years of his life, Hefner – who had begun to suffer back problems – began to fade from view, not wanting to be seen using a walker to move around, or be seen fiddling with his hearing aid.
‘It’s tough to watch him struggle, but I’m just happy it’s physical and not mental,’ Cooper told The Hollywood Reporter in August.
The only photos of Hefner known to have been taken anywhere in 2017 were three photos shared by him and his younger brother Marston on social media in July and August.
They showed the family playing backgammon together, and dining out.
‘He will kill me if I print or if you say anything about him retiring,’ Cooper had previously said, ‘But I think he is really enjoying his life as a 90-year-old at the mansion.’
Despite the two being practically synonymous with each other, Hefner sold the Playboy Mansion for $100m in 2016, but one of the stipulations was that he could continue living there.
Twinkies tycoon Daren Metropoulos, who bought the famous party house, said after his death: ‘Hugh Hefner was a visionary in business, a giant in media and an iconic figure of pop culture whose legacy will leave a lasting impact. I was fortunate to know him as a neighbor and friend and I extend my deepest sympathies to his family.’
Cooper now runs the business; his brother Marston, once the heir apparent, has had a low profile since a 2012 alleged domestic violence incident.
Hefner’s widow, Crystal, 31, was the third of his wives, having married him in 2012. He had previously been married to Mildred Williams from 1949-1959, with whom he had two children, and Kimberley Conrad – 1989’s 27-year-old Playmate of the Year – from 1989-2010.
LIFE ACCORDING TO HUGH HEFNER
‘It’s good to be selfish. But not so self-centered that you never listen to other people.’
‘If you let society and your peers define who you are, you’re the less for it.’
‘Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.’
‘Loneliness doesn’t have much to do with where you are.’
‘If you don’t have a sense of humor about life and yourself, then you are old.’
Cooper, Hefner and Conrad’s elder son, said that he and brother Marston grew up with a framed photo of his mom’s nude centerfold in the home.
‘Yeah, that was weird,’ he admitted. ‘It was like the elephant in the room.’
Hefner also had a bevvy of ‘girlfriends’ who lived with him – usually several at a time – at his famed Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
Despite declaring that he had slept with more than a thousand women, Hefner spent much of his life ‘looking for love in all the wrong places,’ as he tearfully told The New York Times in 1992.
Hefner married Crystal – and took up a life of monogamy – in 2012 after briefly calling off the engagement.’Maybe I should be single,’ he said a few months later.
‘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.’
The year before their marriage, he had mused: ‘I never really found my soulmate.’
As news of Hefner’s death spread online, celebrities gathered to pay tribute.
‘RIP to the legendary Hugh Hefner! I’m so honored to have been a part of the Playboy team! You will be greatly missed! Love you Hef! Xoxo,’ Kim Kardashian West tweeted.
She then added: Paris [Hilton] & I are reminiscing about the Playboy parties at the mansion & how much we love Hef. She’s texts me the perfect Hef emojis,’ followed by eight Playboy Bunny emojis and an old man emoji.
Hilton herself posted a photo of herself in the famous Playboy Bunny outfit, along with Hefner, on Instagram.
Larry King – Hefner’s junior at 81 – tweeted: ‘Hugh Hefner was a GIANT in publishing, journalism, free speech & civil rights. He was a true original, and he was my friend. Rest well Hef.’
And Heidi Montag, who posed for Playboy in 2009, wrote: ‘RIP @hughhefner thank you for making me part of the Playboy family. Sending lots of love and prayers to @crystalhefner.’
One person who had not commented on Hefner’s passing as of 1:30am EST Thursday was President Donald Trump, who appeared on the magazine’s cover in 1990 – much to Hefner’s chargrin.
‘We don’t respect the guy,’ Cooper Hefner told the Hollywood Reporter in August. ‘There’s a personal embarrassment because Trump is somebody who has been on our cover.’
Trump was rather prouder of the March cover – which shows him in a tux alongside Playmate Brandi Brandt – having it on display in his New York office.
That caused a small ruckus in June 2016 when the Reverend Jerry Falwell tweeted a picture of himself and his wife with Trump in front of a wall featuring the cover.
Hefner was born Hugh Marston Hefner in 1926 and grew up in a strict Methodist family.
Despite his family’s conservatism, his mother gave him a $1,000 loan to publish Playboy – ‘Not because she believed in the venture,’ he would later say, ‘but because she believed in her son.’
The magazine hit with a splash, selling 50,000 copies of its first issue – which featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover – and went on to have seven million subscribers by its second year.
As its star rose, so too did Hefner – and he went on to amass a huge personal wealth that peaked at $200 million.
In 1971, Hefner spent $1.1 million (the equivalent of $6 million today) to buy up what would become known as the Playboy Mansion, a 21,987-square-foot LA building.
With a waterfall, swimming pool, secluded grotto and even a wine cellar hidden behind a Prohibition-era secret door, the mansion became the place for Hollywood celebrities to be seen at Hefner’s famous Playboy parties.
He also became a vocal proponent of equal rights for gay people and black Americans; among those interviewed for Playboy was Malcolm X.
But as time wore on Playboy began to face stiffer competition, first from softcore pornography magazines such as Penthouse in 1969, then later from harder fare such as Larry Flynt’s Hustler, which debuted in 1974.
As Playboy left the 1970s and the competition grew, its sales began to decline.
It also suffered with the rise of the internet, which made access to nude images – both glamorous and grim – easy for everyone.
In June 2009 the magazine cut its number of publications per year to just 11, while Hefner sold his English Manor house, located next to the Playboy Mansion, the same year for $18 million – $10 million under the asking price.
The Playboy Mansion had also begun to reflect Hefner’s downturn in fortune.
In 2006, Hefner’s ex-girlfriend, Izabella St James, then 31, released a book titled Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion, in which she lamented the state of the one-palatial home.