Hugh Hefner: Millionaire Mogul, Who Built the Playboy Empire, Dies at the Age of 91

Hugh Hefner: Millionaire Mogul, Who Built the Playboy Empire, Dies at the Age of 91

By JOHN LOEHR | October 2, 2017

Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy Empire, died Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 of natural causes at his home, the Playboy Mansion, in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles. The 91-year-old leaves behind four children, from his two previous marriages, and his wife, Crystal Harris.

Accumulating a net worth of about $200 million, the Playboy empire grew to include a reality TV show, a jazz festival, and a chain of Playboy Clubs.

Hefner attributes his eccentric behavior to his upbringing. In a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hefner explained that, “My folks were raised pure prohibitionist. They were good people, with high moral standards--but very repressed. There was no hugging and kissing in my home.” 

In the 1960s, Hefner strongly opposed the idea of segregation and was described by many as a civil rights activist. In 1961, Hefner bought back Playboy Clubs that didn’t admit African Americans, stating, “we are outspoken foes of segregation [and] we are actively involved in the fight to see the end of all radical inequalities of our time.” Hefner has also been a supporter of the NAACP, donating all profits from the Playboy Jazz festival to this group.

He later championed same-sex marriage with similar vigor: “The fight for gay marriage is in reality a fight for all our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time.” In 1991, Hefner made the ground-breaking decision to feature a transgender model, Caroline 'Tula' Cossey. 

Hefner has stated time and time again that Playboy is not about sex. "I've never thought of Playboy, quite frankly, as a sex magazine," he told CNN. "I always thought of it as a lifestyle magazine in which sex was one important ingredient." In addition to its more controversial content, the magazine published articles and short fiction by some of the most celebrated writers of the day. Playboy also featured prominent interviews with figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, and Muhammad Ali. Even Jimmy Carter granted Playboy an interview in 1976 during his campaign for president, shocking his more conservative supporters.

"Love him or loathe him, no one doubts Mr. Hefner's influence in American cultural history," The New York Times wrote in 2009. "As a magazine publisher, he essentially did for sex what Ray Kroc did for roadside food: clean it up for a rising middle class."

Hefner remained unapologetic about Playboy's mission, in spite of accusations that he promoted the degradation of women. "If you don't encourage healthy sexual expression in public, you get unhealthy sexual expression in private," his magazine quoted him as saying in 1974. "If you attempt to suppress sex in books, magazines, movies and even everyday conversation, you aren't helping to make sex more private, just more hidden. You're keeping sex in the dark. What we've tried to do is turn on the lights."

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