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 died of from natural causes, the statement read.
With a bon vivant philosophy, urbane sophistication and sheer marketing brilliance, Hefner was an icon for the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the man-about-town embodiment of the lifestyle he promoted with gusto and a sly wink to readers.
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 celebrity cheating by Tiger Woods and Jesse James was exposed, Hefner summed up 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.”
The man known to millions simply as “Hef” 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. “
After working first 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. (He had originally planned to call it “Stag Night,” but was forced to change the name to avoid trademark infringement.)
It was produced in his kitchen and carried no date because he wasn’t sure there would be a second issue.
But with the trademark intuition and shrewdness that seemed to always ensure his success, Hefner had acquired a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe for the centerfold, taken before the start of her film career.
The magazine sold 50,000 copies, making it an immediate success. (Hefner later bought the crypt next to Monroe’s in a Los Angeles cemetery.)
An empire was launched, with Hefner – who divorced first wife Mildred Williams in 1959 – as its charismatic, cosmopolitan head.
Often pictured in pajamas – or a silk smoking jacket – and smoking a pipe, Hefner personally promoted the Playboy philosophy as the magazine became an amalgam of nude photographs of gorgeous women and intellectual writing. (“I just read Playboy for the articles,” was a standard, if joking, line at 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 addition to the magazine, there were Playboy clubs, with “bunny” waitresses, two short-lived television series and a host of other Playboy Enterprises projects. In 2011 a new television show based on the Playboy Club was launched.
In 1975, Hefner moved to Los Angeles and in 1985, he suffered a minor stroke.
In 1989, he married longtime girlfriend Kimberly Conrad and for a while 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.