• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Playboy Founder Hugh Hefner Dies

In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Playboy founder and legendary ladies’ man Hugh Hefner has died at the age of 91, according to Playboy Enterprises.

The magazine said he was surrounded by loved ones and “peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home.”

“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,” Hefner’s son Cooper said in a statement. “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.”

Hefner’s dream of running his own magazine began while he was working as a copy editor at Esquire in 1952, and the following year he secured enough funding to launch Playboy.

The December 1953 inaugural issue featured none other than Marilyn Monroe as its cover girl, and the magazine would go on to become a multibillion-dollar empire ― including TV series, websites, DVDs and endless licensed merchandise ― and one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

Hugh Hefner with Sylvia Sidney, Joan Bradshaw and Caroline Mitchell at a Playboy  party in Los Angeles on June 26, 1957. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)
Hugh Hefner with Sylvia Sidney, Joan Bradshaw and Caroline Mitchell at a Playboy  party in Los Angeles on June 26, 1957. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)

In the 1960s, Hefner became the public face of the company and was known for his smoking jacket, his pipe and the assurance that wherever he was, a bevy of beautiful women surrounded him. He launched a series of private key clubs that he staffed with hostesses known as Bunnies for their now-iconic uniforms that included ears and a tail.

Hefner was arrested in 1963 and charged with selling obscene literature after publishing nude photos of actress Jayne Mansfield. The charges were dropped after a jury was unable to reach a verdict, but the experience led Hefner to launch the Playboy Foundation, which provided funding to groups researching human sexuality and fighting censorship.

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, one of the most recognizable brands in the world, has died. (Photo: HECTOR MATA via Getty Images)
Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, one of the most recognizable brands in the world, has died. (Photo: HECTOR MATA via Getty Images)

Hefner took the company public in 1971, but by the mid-’70s, the magazine was facing more competition with the arrival of hardcore publications such as Penthouse, and circulation began to fall. In response, the magazine released its first full-frontal nude centerfold in January 1972, featuring model Marilyn Cole.

The Playboy founder suffered a minor stroke in 1985, just a few weeks shy of his 59th birthday. It was an eye-opening experience for Hefner, who decided it was time to tone down his wild parties, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I survived a stroke two weeks ago,” Hefner said in a statement. “My recovery is total and something of a miracle. What has happened is actually a ‘stroke of luck’ that I fully expect will change the direction of my life.”

Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today.

Playboy editor and tycoon Hugh Hefner is greeted by a group of Bunnies from his Playboy Clubs as he arrives in London in 1966. (Photo: Dove via Getty Images)
Playboy editor and tycoon Hugh Hefner is greeted by a group of Bunnies from his Playboy Clubs as he arrives in London in 1966. (Photo: Dove via Getty Images)

He handed over his empire to daughter Christie, who had been president of Playboy Enterprises since 1982. She began running the company as chairman of the board and CEO in 1988.

In 2009, Scott Flanders replaced Hefner’s daughter as CEO and Playboy Enterprises Inc. began to make a radical shift focusing on its branding potential and licensing opportunities.

Geraldo Rivera, left, and Hugh Hefner filming a "Tribute to Marlon Brando" on June 6, 1974. (Photo: ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images)
Geraldo Rivera, left, and Hugh Hefner filming a "Tribute to Marlon Brando" on June 6, 1974. (Photo: ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images)

Two years later, Hefner made a $207 million deal to buy out the company and take it private. The deal gave him a $1-million-a-year contract, full editorial control of the magazine and the right to keep living at the Playboy Mansion, Forbes reported. Hefner told The Hollywood Reporter in September 2011 that he owned close to 37 percent of the corporation, but noted that he had limited involvement with the company’s new focus on licensing. The media mogul also revealed he estimated his personal wealth at more than $100 million.

In that same article, THR broached the subject of death, but it was not something Hefner ever talked about, a close colleague said. Hefner said he was not afraid of death and had no faith in any afterlife. And his death wasn’t just a subject that Hefner avoided ― at the time, the company hadn’t thought about it either.

Hugh Hefner with his daughter Christie Hefner at the re-opening of the Playboy Club in New York City on Oct. 29, 1985. (Photo: Yvonne Hemsey via Getty Images)
Hugh Hefner with his daughter Christie Hefner at the re-opening of the Playboy Club in New York City on Oct. 29, 1985. (Photo: Yvonne Hemsey via Getty Images)

“That’s hard to imagine. There’s no succession plan,” Flanders told THR.

But the company wasn’t without a plan for long. In 2012, Hefner announced his then-21-year-old son, Cooper, was being groomed to become the public face of the company.

In August, Cooper Hefner was named chief creative officer of the company.

While Hugh Hefner was always surrounded by beautiful women, in recent years he’s made the most headlines for the company he kept ― young, blond Playboy models who lived with him at the infamous Playboy Mansion.

Hefner was first married in 1949 to a Northwestern University student named Mildred Williams, with whom he has two children ― Christie and David ― before divorcing in 1959.

In 1989, he married again, this time to Playmate of the Year Kimberley Conrad, who was 36 years his junior. Together the couple had two sons, Marston and Cooper, before they separated in 1998 and divorced in 2010.

Hugh Hefner, Marsden Hefner and wife Kimberly Conrad at the Playboy Playmate of the Year Celebration on April 25, 1991.  (Photo: Ron Galella via Getty Images)
Hugh Hefner, Marsden Hefner and wife Kimberly Conrad at the Playboy Playmate of the Year Celebration on April 25, 1991.  (Photo: Ron Galella via Getty Images)

During his 12-year separation from Conrad, Hefner had relationships with many of the young models featured in his magazine, including twin sisters Sandy and Mandy Bentley, and even dated seven women at once. His concurrent relationships with Playboy Playmates Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson were featured on the reality series "The Girls Next Door."

Holly Madison, Hugh Hefner, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. The reality series "The Girls Next Door" followed Hefner's relationships with the three women. (Photo: Denise Truscello via Getty Images)
Holly Madison, Hugh Hefner, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. The reality series "The Girls Next Door" followed Hefner's relationships with the three women. (Photo: Denise Truscello via Getty Images)

In 2008, all three women decided to leave Hefner and the Playboy Mansion, prompting Hefner to start dating Crystal Harris, who was 60 years his junior, along with 20-year-old twins Kristina and Karissa Shannon. Hefner broke things off with the twins and proposed to Harris in 2010.

Kristina and Karissa Shannon, Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris attend Hugh Hefner's 83rd birthday pool party at the Palms Resort & Casino on April 4, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Photo: Denise Truscello via Getty Images)
Kristina and Karissa Shannon, Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris attend Hugh Hefner's 83rd birthday pool party at the Palms Resort & Casino on April 4, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Photo: Denise Truscello via Getty Images)

The couple planned to marry in June 2011, but Harris decided to call off their nuptials just five days before they were scheduled to exchange their vows. After some highly publicized fighting over the custody of their dog, the couple reconciled with the help of Hefner's longtime secretary Mary O'Connor, who died in 2013. Hefner said "I do" to Harris and tied the knot for a third time on Dec. 31, 2012.

Hugh Hefner and wife Crystal Hefner attend the annual Halloween Party at the Playboy Mansion on Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo: Charley Gallay via Getty Images)
Hugh Hefner and wife Crystal Hefner attend the annual Halloween Party at the Playboy Mansion on Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo: Charley Gallay via Getty Images)

Hefner and Playboy made headlines more recently for their decision to stop publishing nudes in the print magazine and chose Pamela Anderson to be their last naked cover model for the January/February 2016 issue. The magazine decided to put nudity back in the magazine earlier this year in an effort to take its “identity back” and reclaim “who we are.”

Also last year, the Playboy Mansion, the iconic 5-acre, 29-room West Los Angeles estate owned by Playboy Enterprises, sold for $100 million, with one catch: Hefner asked that he be allowed to continue living and working there until his death.

In an interview for Larry King’s 2004 book, “Remember Me When I’m Gone,” Hefner shared his thoughts on his legacy at Playboy and beyond.

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who played some part in changing our hurtful and hypocritical views on sex ― and had a lot of fun doing it.”

Hefner is survived by his wife, Crystal, and his children Cooper, Christie, Marston and David.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this obituary included a photo caption that misspelled the surnames of Marlon Brando and Hugh Hefner.

Also on HuffPost

Rose Marie

Actress Rose Marie, who spent 90 years in show business but was best known for playing wisecracking Sally Rogers on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” died on Dec. 28, 2017. She was 94.
Actress Rose Marie, who spent 90 years in show business but was best known for playing wisecracking Sally Rogers on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” died on Dec. 28, 2017. She was 94.

Bruce McCandless II

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II, 80, the first human to float untethered in outer space, died on Dec. 21, 2017.
NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II, 80, the first human to float untethered in outer space, died on Dec. 21, 2017.

Cardinal Bernard Law

Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in 2002 as archbishop of Boston over a sex-abuse scandal after a two-decade reign as one of the highest-ranking Catholic officials in the United States, died on December 20, 2017. He was 86.
Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in 2002 as archbishop of Boston over a sex-abuse scandal after a two-decade reign as one of the highest-ranking Catholic officials in the United States, died on December 20, 2017. He was 86.

John B. Anderson

John B. Anderson, an Illinois Republican who cultivated a free-thinking reputation during his 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, and who mounted a serious third-party bid for the White House in 1980, died on Dec. 3, 2017. He was 95.
John B. Anderson, an Illinois Republican who cultivated a free-thinking reputation during his 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, and who mounted a serious third-party bid for the White House in 1980, died on Dec. 3, 2017. He was 95.

Jim Nabors

Jim Nabors, the actor and singer who was best known for playing Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffth Show," died on Nov. 30, 2017. He was 87.
Jim Nabors, the actor and singer who was best known for playing Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffth Show," died on Nov. 30, 2017. He was 87.

David Cassidy

Actor and musician David Cassidy, who starred in the hit TV sitcom "The Patridge Family," died on Nov. 21, 2017 at the age of 67.
Actor and musician David Cassidy, who starred in the hit TV sitcom "The Patridge Family," died on Nov. 21, 2017 at the age of 67.

Della Reese

Actress and gospel singer Della Reese, who starred on the long-running CBS series "Touched by an Angel," died on Nov. 19, 2017. She was 86.
Actress and gospel singer Della Reese, who starred on the long-running CBS series "Touched by an Angel," died on Nov. 19, 2017. She was 86.

Charles Manson

Charles Manson, the infamous cult leader of the “Helter Skelter” gang, died on Nov. 19, 2017. He was 83.
Charles Manson, the infamous cult leader of the “Helter Skelter” gang, died on Nov. 19, 2017. He was 83.

Richard Gordon

Former Apollo 12 astronaut Richard Gordon, 88, one of a dozen men who flew around the moon but didn’t land there, died on November 6, 2017.
Former Apollo 12 astronaut Richard Gordon, 88, one of a dozen men who flew around the moon but didn’t land there, died on November 6, 2017.

Fats Domino

Fats Domino, 89, the rhythm-and-blues singer who recorded more than three dozen Top 40 pop hits and became one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, died on October 25, 2017.
Fats Domino, 89, the rhythm-and-blues singer who recorded more than three dozen Top 40 pop hits and became one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, died on October 25, 2017.

Robert Guillaume

Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, who was best known as the title character in the TV sitcom “Benson,” died on Oct. 24, 2017 at 89.
Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, who was best known as the title character in the TV sitcom “Benson,” died on Oct. 24, 2017 at 89.

Tom Petty

Tom Petty, the Grammy Award-winning lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, died on October 2, 2017. He was 66.
Tom Petty, the Grammy Award-winning lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, died on October 2, 2017. He was 66.

Monty Hall

Monty Hall, who hosted “Let’s Make a Deal” for almost three decades, died on Sept. 30, 2017 at 96.
Monty Hall, who hosted “Let’s Make a Deal” for almost three decades, died on Sept. 30, 2017 at 96.

Hugh Hefner

Playboy magazine founder and legendary ladies’ man Hugh Hefner died on Sept. 27, 2017 at the age of 91.
Playboy magazine founder and legendary ladies’ man Hugh Hefner died on Sept. 27, 2017 at the age of 91.

Jake LaMotta

Jake LaMotta, the boxing legend whose life story became the basis of Martin Scorsese’s classic film “Raging Bull,” died on Sept. 19, 2017. He was 95.
Jake LaMotta, the boxing legend whose life story became the basis of Martin Scorsese’s classic film “Raging Bull,” died on Sept. 19, 2017. He was 95.

Harry Dean Stanton

Character actor Harry Dean Stanton, who broke out of obscurity in his late 50s for his work in "Alien" and "Escape From New York," died on September 15, 2017. He was 91.
Character actor Harry Dean Stanton, who broke out of obscurity in his late 50s for his work in "Alien" and "Escape From New York," died on September 15, 2017. He was 91.

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the 2013 United States Supreme Court case that struck down a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, died on September 12, 2017 at 88.
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the 2013 United States Supreme Court case that struck down a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, died on September 12, 2017 at 88.

Don Williams

Legendary country music singer Don Williams, who was known as the "Gentle Giant," died on September 8, 2017 at 78.
Legendary country music singer Don Williams, who was known as the "Gentle Giant," died on September 8, 2017 at 78.

John Ashbery

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery, who published more than 20 books of poetry and was known for the complexity of his style, died on September 3, 2017 at 90.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery, who published more than 20 books of poetry and was known for the complexity of his style, died on September 3, 2017 at 90.

Jay Thomas

Jay Thomas, 69, Emmy Award-winning actor on "Murphy Brown" and "Cheers," died on August 24, 2017.
Jay Thomas, 69, Emmy Award-winning actor on "Murphy Brown" and "Cheers," died on August 24, 2017.

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis, the legendary entertainer and longtime host of the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, died on Aug. 20, 2017. He was 91.
Jerry Lewis, the legendary entertainer and longtime host of the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, died on Aug. 20, 2017. He was 91.

Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory, comedian and civil rights crusader, died on August 19, 2017. He was 84.
Dick Gregory, comedian and civil rights crusader, died on August 19, 2017. He was 84.

Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell, the beloved “Rhinestone Cowboy,” international TV star and country music singer-songwriter, died on August 8, 2017. He was 81.
Glen Campbell, the beloved “Rhinestone Cowboy,” international TV star and country music singer-songwriter, died on August 8, 2017. He was 81.

Jeanne Moreau

Award-winning French actress Jeanne Moreau, 89, who was best known for thriving in the French New Wave cinema, died on July 31, 2017.
Award-winning French actress Jeanne Moreau, 89, who was best known for thriving in the French New Wave cinema, died on July 31, 2017.

Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, died on July 27, 2017. He was 73.
Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, died on July 27, 2017. He was 73.

George Romero

Horror legend and "Night of the Living Dead" director George Romero died on July 16, 2017. He was 77.
Horror legend and "Night of the Living Dead" director George Romero died on July 16, 2017. He was 77.

Martin Landau

Martin Landau, a star of the 1960s television series “Mission: Impossible” who made a late-career comeback with an Academy Award-winning performance in the 1994 film “Ed Wood,” died on July 15, 2017 at age 89.
Martin Landau, a star of the 1960s television series “Mission: Impossible” who made a late-career comeback with an Academy Award-winning performance in the 1994 film “Ed Wood,” died on July 15, 2017 at age 89.

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani, the 40-year-old Iranian who won the Fields Medal, math’s most prestigious prize, died on July 15, 2017.
Maryam Mirzakhani, the 40-year-old Iranian who won the Fields Medal, math’s most prestigious prize, died on July 15, 2017.

Liu Xiaobo

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and political dissident Liu Xiaobo died on July 13, 2017 after almost a decade of imprisonment by the Chinese government. He was 61.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and political dissident Liu Xiaobo died on July 13, 2017 after almost a decade of imprisonment by the Chinese government. He was 61.

Helmut Kohl

Helmut Kohl, former chancellor who reunified Germany after 45 years of Cold War antagonism, died on June 16, 2017. He was 87
Helmut Kohl, former chancellor who reunified Germany after 45 years of Cold War antagonism, died on June 16, 2017. He was 87

Adam West

Actor Adam West who was best known for playing the title role in the campy 1960s TV series, "Batman," died on June 9, 2017, at the age of 88.
Actor Adam West who was best known for playing the title role in the campy 1960s TV series, "Batman," died on June 9, 2017, at the age of 88.

Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman, a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, the incendiary group that inspired the Southern rock and jam-band movements, died on May 27, 2017. He was 69.
Gregg Allman, a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, the incendiary group that inspired the Southern rock and jam-band movements, died on May 27, 2017. He was 69.

Manuel Noriega

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who spied for the CIA until the U.S. invaded and toppled his corrupt government, died on May 29, 2017 at the age of 83.
Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who spied for the CIA until the U.S. invaded and toppled his corrupt government, died on May 29, 2017 at the age of 83.

Frank Deford

Frank Deford, one of the finest sportswriters of his generation for his detailed psychological profiles of athletes and coaches, died on May 28, 2017. He was 78.
Frank Deford, one of the finest sportswriters of his generation for his detailed psychological profiles of athletes and coaches, died on May 28, 2017. He was 78.

Zbigniew Brzezinski

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, died on May 26, 2017 at the age of 89.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, died on May 26, 2017 at the age of 89.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting