Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine and iconic frontman of the sexual revolution, died today at his home, the Playboy Mansion. He was 91, and died of natural causes, according to Playboy Enterprises.
“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, Playboy Enterprises’ chief creative officer and Hugh’s son, 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, including his wife Crystal, my sister Christie and my brothers David and Marston and all of us at Playboy Enterprises.”
Hefner, born in Chicago to school teacher parents, wrote for a military newspaper in the 1940s, studied psychology, writing and sociology at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, and by the early 1950s was a copywriter at Esquire magazine.
He launched Playboy – and a new era in sexual mores and representation – in December 1953, with Marilyn Monroe as his first cover girl.
With its urbane mix of pioneering New Journalism reportage, in depth interviews and, of course, female nudity – including its trademark centerfolds – Playboy can legitimately claim its culture-shaking status and reputation. While its impact dimmed in recent decades – the magazine was up against any number of societal changes, from feminism, woke attitudes about objectification and gender equality to the decline of print and an unwinnable competition from free internet pornography – the bunny-eared brand remained one of the world’s most recognizable, decades after the swinging Playboy After Dark left late night TV.
Just last spring, RatPac Entertainment optioned Hefner’s life rights, with Brett Ratner set to spearhead the development of a feature film. As Deadline reported, the picture will be a co-production between Ratpac and Playboy/Alta Loma Entertainment.
That news came just as Amazon Prime released American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story, a 10-part documentary on Hefner’s life, one that had the participation of the Playboy founder.
“In recent years there has been plenty of interest and much conversation about doing a feature film based on my life,” Hefner said at the time. “I have always believed that when the timing was truly right, the perfect creative partners would come together for this project. I believe we’ve found those partners in Brett Ratner and RatPac Entertainment. I’m very much looking forward to this collaboration.”
With Hefner retired to the Playboy Mansion – despite its $100 million sale, he was allowed to remain a resident for life – son Cooper oversaw the magazine’s often difficult passage into the digital age.
Hefner is survived by his wife, Crystal, his sons, Cooper, David and Marston, and his daughter, Christie, the statement said.