Tuesday 20 February 2018

End of an era as ultimate 'Playboy' Hefner dies at 91

Hugh Hefner with his third wife Crystal Harris in 2011. Picture: Reuters
Hugh Hefner with his third wife Crystal Harris in 2011. Picture: Reuters

Bill Trott

'Playboy' founder Hugh Hefner, who helped usher in the 1960s sexual revolution with his groundbreaking men's magazine and built a business empire around his libertine lifestyle, died on Wednesday at the age of 91, Playboy Enterprises said.

Hefner, once called the "prophet of pop hedonism" by 'Time' magazine, peacefully passed away at his home.

Hugh Hefner with Playmates in Cannes in 1999. Picture: AP
Hugh Hefner with Playmates in Cannes in 1999. Picture: AP

Hefner was sometimes characterised as an oversexed Peter Pan as he kept a harem of young blondes at his legendary Playboy Mansion. He said thanks to Viagra he continued exercising his libido into his 80s.

"I'm never going to grow up," Hefner said in a CNN interview when he was 82. "Staying young is what it is all about for me. Holding on to the boy and long ago I decided that age really didn't matter and as long as the ladies... feel the same way, that's fine with me."

Hefner settled down somewhat in 2012 at age 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 where affection was rarely exhibited. His so-called stunted childhood led to a multi-million-dollar enterprise that centred on naked women but also espoused Hefner's "Playboy philosophy" based on romance, style and the casting off of mainstream mores.

Hugh Hefner in 1970 with his then girlfriend actress Barbi Benton and film director Roman Polanski. Picture: AFP/Getty
Hugh Hefner in 1970 with his then girlfriend actress Barbi Benton and film director Roman Polanski. Picture: AFP/Getty

That philosophy came to life at the legendary parties in his mansions - first in his native Chicago, then in Los Angeles - where legions of male celebrities swarmed to mingle with beautiful young women.

Long before the internet made nudity ubiquitous, Hefner faced obscenity charges in 1963 for publishing photos of disrobed celebrities and aspiring stars, but he was acquitted.

Hefner created 'Playboy' as the first stylish glossy men's magazine and in addition to nude fold-outs, it had intellectual appeal with writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, Vladimir Nabokov, James Baldwin and Alex Haley for men who liked to say they did not buy the magazine just for the pictures.

In-depth interviews with historic figures such as Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and John Lennon also were featured regularly.

Hugh Hefner at his nightclub in Chicago in 1961. Picture: AP
Hugh Hefner at his nightclub in Chicago in 1961. Picture: AP

"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."

Hefner proved to be a genius at branding. The magazine's rabbit silhouette became one of the best known logos in the world and the "bunny" waitresses in his Playboy nightclubs were instantly recognisable in their low-cut bathing suit-style uniforms with bow ties, puffy cotton tails and pert rabbit ears.

Hef, as he began calling himself in high school, was a living logo for 'Playboy', presiding over his realm in silk pyjamas and a smoking jacket while puffing on a pipe. "What I created came out of my own adolescent dreams of fantasies," he told CNN. "I was trying to redefine what it meant to be a young, urban unattached male."

After writing copy for 'Esquire' magazine, Hefner married and worked in the circulation department of 'Children's Activities' magazine when he began plotting what would become 'Playboy'.

The first issue came out in December 1953 - featuring a nude Marilyn Monroe - and was a hit. As the magazine took off, it was attacked from the right because of the nudity and from the left by feminists. It was banned in Ireland.

'Playboy' flourished during the sexual revolution and into the 1970s with monthly circulation hitting seven million.

He ran into trouble in the 1980s with competition from 'Penthouse' and 'Hustler' - magazines that had much more explicit photos - and 'Playboy's' social impact faded considerably by the 21st century. The Playboy Clubs closed in 1991 but would be partially revived.

After suffering a minor stroke in 1985, Hefner made his daughter Christie CEO of Playboy Enterprises. His son Cooper, who was nearly 40 years younger than Christie, assumed a major role in the company in 2014.

"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," Cooper said in a statement, according to posts on social media.

In March 2016 'Playboy' did away with full frontal nudity - unimaginable in the publication's heyday. 'Playboy' resumed nudity a year later as Hefner's son Cooper announced a new philosophy for the company.

In August 2016, one of Hefner's neighbours announced he had bought the Playboy Mansion for $100m with the understanding Hefner could stay there until he died.

Before 'Playboy', Hefner married Millie Williams in 1949, with whom he had daughter Christie. They divorced in 1959. The many women who shared his round, motorised, vibrating bed included models who posed in his magazine. In 1989 he married Playmate of the Year Kimberly Conrad. They had two sons but divorced after 10 years.

In 2008, after girlfriend Holly Madison broke up with Hefner, he said he had hoped to spend the rest of his life with her. Soon after he added 19-year-old twins to his group before turning to marriage again with Harris.

Irish Independent

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