Playboy founder Hugh Hefner dead at 91

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(CNN Money) — Hugh Hefner — the silk-robed Casanova whose Playboy men’s magazine popularized the term “centerfold,” glamorized an urbane bachelor lifestyle and helped spur the sexual revolution of the 1960s — has died, the magazine said late Wednesday. He was 91.

Hefner founded Playboy in 1953 with $600 of his own money and built the magazine into a multimillion-dollar entertainment empire that at its 1970s peak included TV shows, a jazz festival and a string of Playboy Clubs whose cocktail waitresses wore bunny ears and cottontails.

Over the years, the legend of “Hef” only grew as he bedded hundreds of young women, married a few of his magazine’s “Playmates” and cavorted on reality TV shows with a stable of girlfriends less than a third his age.

Some critics dismissed him as a relic of a sexist era, especially in his later years, when Hefner spoke openly of his Viagra-fueled sex romps at the Playboy Mansion. But many men envied his adolescent-fantasy lifestyle.

And his pioneering magazine, his biggest legacy, may have helped the buttoned-up America of the 1950s and early 1960s loosen up a little about sex.

“I would like to be remembered as somebody who has changed the world in some positive way, in a social, sexual sense, and I’d be very happy with that,” Hefner told CNN. “I’m a kid who dreamed the dreams and made them come true.”

Related: Playboy and Hugh Hefner in pictures

A ‘male point of view’

Hefner was born April 9, 1926, in Chicago to Glenn Hefner, an accountant, and Grace Hefner, a teacher. Both parents were conservative Protestants from Nebraska.

“My folks were raised pure prohibitionist,” Hefner told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011. “They were very good people, with high moral standards — but very repressed. There was no hugging and kissing in my home.”

In 1944, after graduating from high school, Hefner joined the U.S. Army as a writer for a military newspaper. Following World War II, he became a promotional copywriter at Esquire magazine, where he began toying with the idea of publishing a men’s magazine.

“Esquire was always for older guys, but … it was very much devoted to male bonding and outdoor adventure,” Hefner told CNN. “And I wanted to read a magazine that was a little more sophisticated and was focused really on the romantic connection between the sexes from a male point of view.”

Related: Key facts about Hugh Hefner

After raising $10,000 from investors, Hefner published the debut issue of Playboy in December 1953.

The premiere issue had no date, in case it sold poorly and there wasn’t a second issue. On its cover was actress Marilyn Monroe, who also appeared in a nude centerfold — a photograph that had been originally used for a pin-up calendar.

Hefner contributed an introductory essay in which he envisioned the magazine’s readers: “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex …”

Instant success

Playboy was an immediate success, selling more than 50,000 copies.

Hefner helped personally select monthly “Playmates,” persuaded famous sex symbols such as Jayne Mansfield and Ursula Andress to pose nude for the magazine and added “centerfold” to the popular lexicon. He was also arrested in 1963 on charges that Playboy violated obscenity laws, but a jury acquitted him after a trial.

“I’ve never thought of Playboy, quite frankly, as a sex magazine,” he told CNN. “I always thought of it as a lifestyle magazine in which sex was one important ingredient.”

As if to prove his point, Playboy published articles and short fiction by some of the most celebrated writers of the day, including Ray Bradbury, Ian Fleming, Carl Sagan, John Updike and Vladimir Nabokov — inadvertently creating a joke phrase, “I only read Playboy for the articles.”

The magazine also earned respect for its lengthy interviews with high-profile figures like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon and Jimmy Carter, who made headlines after granting Playboy an interview during his 1976 campaign for president.

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