Playboy empire Founder, Hugh Hefner, died on his estate on September 28, 2017; he was 91. His name and brand became iconic with the most memorable of names such as Coca-Cola or Michael Jackson. Remembered for his poised demeanor and unspoken dress code of a customary silk robe, Hefner singlehandedly revolutionized sexual expression. However, this physode that he developed often made critics undermine the passion he held for the arts, his country, and philanthropy. Behind the success and prestige, Hefner was a humble and soft-spoken soul who trusted that his little magazine would alter sexual values and instill a sense of pride in pin-up models nationwide.
Raised in a conservative home with a religious upbringing, Hefner was accustomed to the strict principles of his family’s beliefs. Generally shying away from too much social interaction, he gravitated towards writing and drawing. He started a school newspaper in high school while simultaneously serving as president of student council. At the ripe age of 18, he served in the army towards the closing of World War II before enrolling at the Chicago Art Institute. He than received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois despite being remembered for spending more time doodling in class instead of studying. With a double minor in creative writing and art, Hefner started copywriting for ‘Esquire’ Magazine in the 1950’s. After being rejected for a salary raise, he quit and dedicated time to create his own publication. Managing to borrow $8,000 from his friends and family, Hefner gathered the supplies while creating much of the content and animations himself. He than purchased a nude pin-up of Marilyn Monroe and placed it on the front cover. Playboy’s debut issue launched in 1953 and sold over 50,000 copies.
Nearly two decades later, he purchased the famous Playboy Mansion and began living the “good life” of affluence and female adoration (from his models known as “bunnies). Hefner adopted his own “playboy philosophy” that questioned America’s sexual conventions while opening up the first Playboy Club for his growing number of followers. By 1973, Playboy was selling 7 million copies a month and nearly 1 million members faithful to its clubs, resorts and casinos. The pressures of a changing empire while competing with newcomers such as Hustler and Penthouse, Hefner suffered from a stroke in 1985. Shortly after, he gave control of the operations to his daughter Christie and started to focus on social issues. However, this wasn’t anything new for good ol’ Hugh.
During his early rise in the 1960’s, he funded the Kinsey Institute and supported the Pro-Choice Movement. He was also an avid supporter of the Civil Rights Movement friending historical black activists such as Dick Gregory and Jesse Jackson. He also published a Playboy interview with African American musician, Miles Davis that touched on racial inequality in America. The Playboy Philosophy was surely progressive for its time granting opportunities for many figures of color in showbiz. On another note, Hefner donated millions to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and developed his own “Censorship in Cinema” curriculum. He was actively involved with animal rights and organized several events for animal rescue causes. Hefner also donated nearly $1 million to preserve the famous Hollywood Sign along with the surrounding land.
Playboy celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2004 but struggled to remain relevant in the tech era. By 2009, Playboy’s value dropped to $84 million from $1 billion just ten years earlier. They chose to reduce the annual circulations to 10 issues per year while putting their publishing rights up for sale at $300 million. Hefner ended up selling the mansion for $10 million to the President and Co-owner of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Daren Metropoulos. After years of refusing to sell his equity, he finally agreed to $6.15 per share of Playboy in 2011. Four years later, they announced the removal of fully nude graphics in their issues directing those thrill-seekers to the newly established playboyplus.com Earlier this year, Playboy admitted that this move was a mistake for their brand and started to incorporate more original features such as their Party Jokes and the Playboy Philosophy.
Upon hearing news of his passing, friends and family began to pour in tributes of kind words of support and encouragement. His 26 year old son Cooper 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.” There’s no doubt that today’s sexual climate would’ve never been the same without the vision of a young Protestant boy from Westside Chicago. Despite Playboy’s controversial image and struggle to adjust in contemporary times, Hugh Hefner and his legacy will continue to live on for years to come. With him gone and his empire now becoming a distant memory, we are excited to see the direction Playboy will take.
Hefner is survived by his wife, Crystal Harris, his daughter, Christie, and his sons, David, Marston and Cooper.