Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, died Wednesday at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, surrounded by loved ones, the magazine said in a statement.
He was 91. He expired from natural causes, the announcement read.
With urbane sophistication a bon vivant philosophy and sheer marketing brilliance, Hefner was an icon for the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the embodiment of the lifestyle he encouraged to readers with a sly wink and gusto.
Asked by the New York Times in 1992 of what he was proudest, Hefner responded: “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.”
When he turned 85, he cheerfully observed, “You’re as young as the girl you feel.”
After a round of star cheating by Tiger Woods and Jesse James was exposed, Hefner summed up his own mindset: “I had a lot of girlfriends, but it’s not the same as cheating. I don’t cheat. I am very open about what I do. … I think that when you are in a relationship, you should be honest. The real immorality of infidelity is the lying.”
The man known to millions simply as “Hef” was born April 9, 1926, in Chicago, the elder of two sons.
His parents were Methodists and Hefner went to Chicago schools before joining the Army, attending the Chicago Art Institute and graduating from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a degree in psychology.
“Part of the reason that I am who I am is my Puritan roots run deep,” he told the Associated Press at 2011. “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. “
After working first as a copywriter for “Esquire” — where he reportedly left because he did not get a $5 raise — Hefner decided to start his own book and he raised $8,000 from 45 investors to launch “Playboy” in December 1953. (He had originally planned to call it “Stag Night,” but had been forced to change the title to prevent trademark infringement.)
Since he was not convinced there would be another issue it was produced in his kitchen and carried no date.
But with shrewdness that seemed to constantly ensure his success and the trademark intuition, Hefner had acquired a photo of Marilyn Monroe for the centerfold.
The magazine sold 50,000 copies, which makes it an instant success. (Hefner later bought the crypt next to Monroe’s at a Los Angeles Peninsula)
An empire has been launched, with Hefner — who divorced wife Mildred Williams as its charismatic, cosmopolitan head.
Pictured in pajamas — or a silk smoking jacket – and smoking a pipe, Hefner personally encouraged the Playboy philosophy as the magazine became an amalgam of nude photographs of gorgeous women and writing. (“I just read Playboy for the articles,” was a standard, if joking, lineup at the moment.)
“If you had to sum up the idea of Playboy, it is anti-Puritanism,” he was quoted as saying as the nation’s mood became more hedonistic.
“Not just in regard to sex but the whole range of play and pleasure.”
Along with the magazine, there were Playboy clubs, with “bunny” waitresses, two short-lived television series and a lot of other Playboy Enterprises projects. In 2011 a television show based on the Playboy Club was launched.
In 1975, Hefner moved to Los Angeles and in 1985, he suffered a stroke.
In 1989, he married longtime girlfriend Kimberly Conrad and became a family man with two young sons before the couple separated in 1998.
“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 Hefner, Hefner’s son and chief creative officer at Playboy Enterprises, said in a statement.
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