Playboy Founder Hugh Hefner Dies at 91

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, died on Wednesday at his home according to Playboy Enterprises, Inc. He was 91.

“Hugh M. Hefner, the American icon who in 1953 introduced the world to Playboy magazine and built the company into one of the most recognizable American global brands in history, peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones,” read the statement. “He was 91 years old.”

In an interview with ET in 1982, Hefner said that people are always fascinated by what is considered taboo in society.

“I know there was a tremendous amount of curiosity about me and my lifestyle, and that is not altogether an accident,” Hefner said. “But I also think that has a major part to do with what Playboy’s all about. I think the two great fascinations and guilt in America are sex and wealth, and combining the two in Playboy — and then with my own lifestyle so intimately and related to the magazine — I think it’s very natural that people will feel a great fascination about that and about me.”

The first issue of Playboy was an instant success which featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover. It sold more than 50,000 copies and a publishing house was born, as was the pop culture relevance of the Playboy centrefold, which became the playground for Hefner’s Playmates of the Month, E! News reports.

Besides the naked beauties in the magazine, there are some of the greatest celebrity interviews and pieces of journalism of all time that have been featured in its pages, including a 1965 sit-down with Martin Luther King Jr., 1974’s “The Great Shark Hunt” by Hunter S. Thompson, the Mark Boal-penned article that became the basis for The Hurt Locker, short fiction by Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow and Margaret Atwood and many other great articles.

While Hefner knew that nude photos of women –  which over the years included famous female celebrities such as Madonna, Kate Moss, Pamela Anderson, Naomi Campbell, Sharon Stone to Lindsay Lohan – were selling like hotcakes, he always had high standards when it came to the tone and sociopolitical purpose of his flagship magazine.

The image of Hefner wearing silk pajamas and a smoking jacket, complete with Playmates by his side, became his signature look. He was married to Mildred Williams from 1949 until 1959, the mother of his daughter Christie and son David, but remained single for the next 40 years after they divorced. He had numerous girlfriends during that time, including a nine-year relationship with model Barbi Benton, which she appeared on three Playboy covers.

Playboy Enterprises expanded over the years including television and film companies, resorts, nightclubs, products, a philanthropic arm and ultimately, a number of websites, with its well-known signature logo, the silhouette of the head of a bow-tie-wearing rabbit.

In 1974, Hefner moved permanently to his Playboy Mansion in L.A. and got involved in local and civic projects, such as the restoration of the Hollywood sign. He married his longtime girlfriend Kimberley Conrad in 1989 and they had two sons together, Marston and Cooper.

In Dec. 2012, Hef married Crystal Harris and earlier that year he announced that his son Cooper would likely carry on as the public face of Playboy in his place.

Hef sold his beloved mansion in June 2016 for $100 million, although he was allowed to stay at the residence until his death.

Hefner is survived by his wife, Crystal, and four children from previous relationships – Christie, who served as CEO of Playboy Enterprise for more than 20 years, David, Marston and Cooper, who currently serves as Chief Creative Officer at the company.

“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,” Cooper Hefner said, according to Variety.