A proponent of free speech, a champion of civil rights and a purveyor of smut: Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner was all this and more. He died on Wednesday at the age of 91, according to a statement from the magazine, which said that he “peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, the Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones.”
Hefner and his magazine served to power the sexual revolution of the 1960s. When he was asked by the New York Times in 1992 what was his proudest accomplishment, Hefner replied, “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.”
He was also known for his love of beautiful young women. When he turned 85, he famously quipped, “You’re as young as the girl you feel.”
Celebrity cheaters such as Tiger Woods and Jesse James compelled Hefner to explain his own attitude: “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.”
Known to millions simply as “Hef,” the millionaire magazine publisher was born April 9, 1926, in Chicago, the elder of two sons.
His parents were strict 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 in 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. ”
His first job was working as a copywriter for “Esquire” – where he reportedly left because he didn’t get a $5 raise – Hefner decided to start his own publication and he raised $8,000 from 45 investors to launch “Playboy” in December 1953.
The controversial first magazine was produced in his kitchen and carried no date because he wasn’t certain that there would be a second issue. But he had a bombshell centerfold, having acquired a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe, which was taken before the start of her film career, and the magazine sold 50,000 copies. It literally was an overnight success, and an empire was born.
Often pictured in pajamas – or a silk smoking jacket and smoking a pipe, Hefner personally promoted the Playboy philosophy, which was focused on nude photographs of gorgeous women and intellectual articles.
“I just read Playboy for the articles,” was the standard joke of the time.
“If you had to sum up the idea of Playboy, it is anti-Puritanism,” he was quoted as saying as the country’s mood became more hedonistic. “Not just in regard to sex but the whole range of play and pleasure.”
In 2011, a new television show based on the Playboy Mansion was launched, showing the elderly man as a youthful hunk surrounded by even younger women, despite the fact that he was in his eighties.
“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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