Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine who revolutionised publishing and helped usher in the sexual revolution with a vision of beauty, sophistication and the libertine lifestyle that reflected the desires of the post-war generation, has died at 91.
Playboy Enterprises said Mr Hefner “peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion” in Los Angeles, “surrounded by loved ones”.
People Magazine reported that his son Cooper Hefner, chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, said: “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.
“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.”
It all began on a card table in Mr Hefner’s living room on the south side of Chicago, where in late 1953 he laid out the pages for the first issue of a magazine that would ultimately become one of the most recognizable brands of the 20th century.
The son of strait-laced Midwestern Protestants who rarely exhibited public signs of affection, Mr Hefner, who was known to most simply as Hef, felt his parents’ generation’s view of sexuality was out of step with that of men returning from World War II.
The groundbreaking Kinsey Reports on human sexual behavior in 1948 and 1953 convinced him that Americans were far more sexual than prevailing social mores would lead one to believe and that the men’s magazines of the time lacked the edginess and sophistication they wanted.
His concept was to present the image of a worldly and well-read man, surrounded by beautiful women, expensive cars and the latest high-tech gadgets. He initially wanted to call the magazine Stag Party but at the last minute changed the title to Playboy.
“Affairs of state will be out of our province. We don’t expect to solve any world problems or prove any great moral truths. If we are able to give the American male a few extra laughs and a little diversion for the anxieties of the Atomic age, we’ll feel we’ve justified our existence,” he wrote in the introduction to the first issue.
In October 2015, the magazine took a radical turn when it announced it would no longer publish images of fully nude women, distancing itself from a major element of its legacy. Company officials said the change was partly a recognition that these photos were no longer unique in an era of widely available online pornography. Sales plummeted, however, and the company changed course in early 2017, once again publishing nude photographs.
Working during the day as a circulation manager for Children’s Activities magazine, Mr Hefner cobbled together $8,000 from relatives and a bank loan to launch Playboy. He built the first issue around a full-color photo he purchased from a calendar manufacturer for $500 of a nude Marilyn Monroe before she was famous. The cover sported no publication date, because he wasn’t sure if or when he would be able to publish another.
But when it hit stands in December 1953, it was a sensation, selling out all 50,000 copies. By 1971, Playboy was selling seven million copies a month, the company went public and the magazine’s bunny-eared logo had become one of the most recognized corporate brands in the world. Few players in the world of adult entertainment would come close to achieving Playboy’s mix of high culture and glossy sexuality.
“I didn’t just start a magazine. I started a magazine that changed everything,” he told Esquire in 2013.
Mr Hefner met with his fair share of critics. Feminists lashed out at him for objectifying women. Religious conservatives accused him of coarsening culture and appealing to people’s baser instincts purely for profit.
He was always willing to spar with his harshest detractors and was a frequent guest on television talk shows for decades. His erudite defense of a more sexually free world predated the sexual revolution of the 1960s by several years and in 1962, he published a nearly 300-page manifesto called “The Playboy Philosophy” that laid out in fine detail what he saw as the sexual hypocrisy of American society.
At the start, Mr Hefner relied on photos of well-known starlets and glamour queens like Jayne Mansfield and Bettie Page. But he quickly shifted to using amateur or unknown models, dubbed Playmates, believing that the girl-next-door image tapped more readily into ordinary people’s inherent sexuality. Over the years, many major celebrities graced the magazine’s pages — from Madonna to Drew Barrymore to Cindy Crawford. Others, like Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy, were launched to stardom after appearing as Playmates.
Mr Hefner also paid top dollar for top-rate works of fiction and journalism, attracting iconic writers such as John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and Ian Fleming, among many others. Beginning in 1962, Playboy began featuring monthly interviews with leading cultural and historic figures, including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter. The quality of the work led readers to often quip, sometimes jokingly and sometimes not, that they bought the magazine for the articles — not, it was implied, for the photos.
“In a time of repression and conformity, Playboy presented a revolutionary perception of life that was both sophisticated and playful. The editorial point of view — that life was more than a vale of tears, that play and pleasure were important parts of being alive — was reflected in the words and pictures of every issue,” he would write years later in the introduction to a book celebrating the magazine’s 50th anniversary.
Born Hugh Marston Hefner on April 9, 1926, in Chicago, Mr Hefner said he grew up in a strict household with reserved parents. As a child, he threw himself into drawing comics and later admitted he didn’t lose his virginity until he was 22. But when he created the magazine he took it upon himself to be a living, breathing example of the lifestyle he was trying to promote, eventually wrapping himself in silk pajamas and smoking jacket and carrying a pipe at all times, to become the ultimate marketing tool for Playboy.
By the end of the 1950s, his first marriage was over and he proceeded to carry on relationships with an endless string of women, many of whom had appeared in the pages of the magazine. In 1989, at age 63, he married that year’s 26-year-old Playmate of the Year, Kimberly Conrad. They divorced in 2010. Two years later – at age 86 – he married Playmate Crystal Harris.
In 1960, Mr Hefner purchased what would become the first Playboy Mansion in Chicago, but by 1975 he had moved permanently to another property in Los Angeles. The mansion and 5 1/2 – acre estate he bought in Holmby Hills would become legend in the city for its parties. An invitation to one signaled to those trying to make it in Hollywood that they had arrived. In 1980, Mr Hefner led a campaign to restore the then badly decayed Hollywood sign, earning him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
As the magazine’s ethos and bunny-eared logo grew increasingly well-known, Mr Hefner pursued an exceedingly successful branding effort. He started in the 1960s with syndicated television programs and nightclubs around the country. When Playboy Enterprises went public in 1971, it branched into publishing, film and music production and even a limousine service. By the time the magazine reached its sixth decade, it moved deeply into merchandising, licensing its logo for clothing and fragrance lines around the world.
But by the beginning of the 21st century, the business started to suffer as the internet and its far-more graphic fare took an increasingly large bite out of the adult market. Circulation slumped and in 2011, with the magazine hemorrhaging around $1 million an issue, Mr Hefner enlisted the help of private-equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management LLC to take the company private. The company’s outlying assets, including its adult television business, were quickly sold and the focus returned to just the magazine and the lucrative licensing of its logo. In August 2016, the Playboy Mansion was sold for $100 million to Mr Hefner’s next-door neighbor, private-equity executive Daren Metropoulos, with the understanding Mr Hefner could continue living in the house until his death.
In the end, Mr Hefner retained 20% of the company — the same as when he started — and remained as editor in chief of the magazine until his death, although he ceded control of day-to-day operations and functioned primarily as a figurehead since the early 2000s. In 2016, his youngest son, Cooper, assumed the role of chief creative officer.
Mr Hefner is survived by Ms. Harris and four children: daughter Christie, who served as Playboy Enterprises’ chief executive from 1988 until 2009, and son David from his first wife Mildred Williams; and sons Marston and Cooper from his second wife.
Originally posted by: The Wall Street Journal, thank you.