The pipe-smoking, silk-pajama-wearing man who was the center of fantasy parties, Hugh Hefner died of natural causes this morning at the Playboy Mansion near Beverly Hills, California, aged 91. His son, Cooper Hefner, also Creative Chief Officer of Playboy Enterprises, said in a statement: "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."
Hefner, who founded the iconic Playboy magazine and spun it into a media and entertainment giant, ushered in a sexual revolution in the 1960's with a magazine that was replete with sexy pictorials and intelligent interviews, both lauded and criticised by feminists of that era, with a few accusing him of objectifying women, while others celebrated him for empowering them.
Hefner kept a harem of young blondes at his legendary Playboy Mansion. He accused his upbringing, where affection was rarely portrayed, for developing the "iconoclastic rebellion in me".
Hefner with Elizabeth Martin and Groucho Marx during the Playmate of the Year Awards
The businessman dabbled in all forms of media, hosting his TV show Playboy's Penthouse in the late '50s, which featured him surrounded with "playmates" and interviewing celebrities like Bob Newhart, Don Adams and Sammy Davis Jr. It promoted his ideology, which came to be known as the Playboy Philosophy, a lifestyle that included politically liberal sensibilities portrayed through sophisticated parties and the possibility of recreational sex.
Hefner, Kimberley Conrad and sons Cooper Hefner and Marston Hefner at Friar's Club Gala on October 9, 1998
His 22,000-sqft mansion has been described as an adult's fantasyland. The hotspot hosted A-listers at wild parties where Playboy Bunnies, working with a stipulated stipend of >> 630-a-week, roamed and indulged in sexual activities with guests.
Hefner's "active sexual imagination" (including wife swapping and sleeping with his brother's wife), is cited as the reason that tore his family apart.
How Playboy grew
Following unfulfilling jobs at various magazines, including Esquire for a weekly stipend of $60, Hefner set out to make his media empire in 1953. The first edition of Playboy (right) featured a picture of Marilyn Monroe that Hefner had purchased. It sold over 54,000 copies. The iconic mascot, a silhouette of a bunny in a bow tie, was chosen because he thought rabbits carried "sexual meaning" and were "shy, vivacious, jumping" animals.
>> Esquire magazine states he had a fountain topped by a statue of a cherub molesting a dolphin
>> His mansion housed busts of Frankenstein and Dracula, and a chandelier on which hung lace underwear
>> There's a rabbit named after him. The Sylvilagus palustris hefneri was named after him in 1984, says the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
A bunny's life
Hefner and a Playmate at a Super Bowl Party 2008
Head Bunny Natalie Deegan, 29, who has been managing Hugh Hefner's London club, chronicled what it takes to be a Hefner bunny. The Playboy clientele ranges from women enjoying a cocktail to Chinese and Middle Eastern millionaires, and A-list stars, she said. "We've hosted Bruno Mars, Snoop Dogg, Drake, Justin Bieber, Kate Moss, One Direction, Liam Gallagher," Natalie told The Sun Online. The bunnies are well rewarded when they've given good service. "We've had some really big tips -- the biggest I've ever seen was Euro 100,000," Natalie said, adding that the bunnies serve drinks and food, deal on the black jack and roulette tables and conduct tours of the club. The girls range from petite to curvy, blonde to brunette, but all possess the famous Playboy "girl next door" look. A key personality trait -- "You need to be able to get on with other people quite quickly" -- is essntial for the job. As for the costumes, "Each costume is made especially for you. The seamstress will give you whatever you want -- boobs, a small waist, to look curvy."
Hold on Hollywood
Mariah Carey on the Playboy cover in March 2007
The charming Hef convinced Hollywood's leading ladies to reveal more of themselves than they ever had. Barbara Streisand, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Joan Collins and Drew Barrymore agreed to in-depth cover stories accompanied by sexy pictorials. His largely male audience thirsted for more, making Playboy hit the 1 million mark within five years. By 1970, the magazine had over 7 million sales per month.
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