Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who helped usher in the 1960s sexual revolution with his groundbreaking men's magazine and built a business empire around his libertine lifestyle, died on Wednesday at the age of 91, Playboy Enterprises said.
Hefner, once called the "prophet of pop hedonism" by Time magazine, peacefully passed away at his home, Playboy Enterprises said in a statement.
Long before the Internet made nudity ubiquitous, Hefner faced obscenity charges in 1963 for publishing and circulating photos of disrobed celebrities and aspiring stars but he was acquitted.
Hefner created Playboy
as the first stylish glossy men's magazine and in addition to nude fold-outs, it had intellectual appeal with top writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, Vladimir Nabokov, James Baldwin and Alex Haley for men who liked to say they did not buy the magazine just for the pictures.
In-depth interviews with historic figures such as Arie Sharon, Meir Kahane, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and John Lennon were also featured regularly.
"I've never thought of Playboy quite frankly as a sex magazine," Hefner told CNN in 2002. "I always thought of it as a lifestyle magazine in which sex was one important ingredient." Hefner proved to be a genius at branding. The magazine's rabbit silhouette became one of the best known logos in the world and the "bunny" waitresses in his Playboy nightclubs were instantly recognizable in their low-cut bathing suit-style uniforms with bow ties, puffy cotton tails and pert rabbit ears.
Hef, as he began calling himself in high school, was also a living logo for Playboy, presiding over his realm in silk pajamas and a smoking jacket while puffing on a pipe.
"What I created came out of my own adolescent dreams of fantasies," he told CNN. "I was trying to redefine what it meant to be a young, urban unattached male." After writing copy for Esquire
magazine, Hefner married and worked in the circulation department of Children's Activities
magazine when he began plotting what would become Playboy magazine.
The first issue came out in December 1953 - featuring nude photos of actress Marilyn Monroe - and was a hit. As the magazine took off, it was attacked from the right because of the nudity and from the left by feminists
who said it reduced women to sex objects.
Hefner once declared sex to be "the primary motivating factor in the course of human history" and, using that as a business model Playboy flourished during the sexual revolution and into the 1970s with monthly circulation hitting 7 million.
He ran into trouble in the 1980s with competition from Penthouse
- magazines that had much more explicit photos - and Playboy's social impact faded considerably by the 21st century. The Playboy Clubs closed in 1991 but would be partially revived.
Playboy magazine, starting with its March 2016 issue, did away with full frontal nudity in a rebranding that would have been unimaginable in the publication's heyday.
Playboy resumed nudity a year later as Hefner's son Cooper announced a new philosophy for the company.
In August 2016, one of Hefner's neighbors, a private equity investor, announced he had bought the Playboy mansion for $100 million with the understanding Hefner could stay there until he died.
Before Playboy, Hefner married Millie Williams in 1949 and they divorced in 1959, starting a period in which he became the ultimate bachelor. The many women who shared his round, motorized, vibrating bed included models who posed in his magazine and in 1989 he married one of them, Playmate of the Year Kimberly Conrad.
They had two sons but Hefner's experiment with traditional domesticity ended in divorce after 10 years. Conrad moved into a home next to Hefner so he could stay close to their sons.
In 2008 after one of his girlfriends, Holly Madison, broke up with Hefner, he said he had hoped to spend the rest of his life with her. Shortly afterward he added 19-year-old twins to his group before turning to marriage again with Harris.
Playboy magazine is not without a few Jewish and Israeli links as well. The magazine featured several Jewish-American women, including Cindy Fuller, Susan Bernard, Sally Sheffield, Barbi Benton, Nikki Ziering, Lindsey Vuolo and Anita Marks.
In April 1970 Playboy published an issue devoted to "The girls of Israel" and a Hebrew version of the magazine was published in 2013 and featured reality television star Natalie Dadon as well as an in-depth interview with MK Avi Dichter. At the time, Hefner claimed Playboy and Israel share the same values.
“I’m proud to see Playboy Israel embark on its mission to play an important role in strengthening freedom of speech, freedom of choice and freedom of the press,” Hefner said in a message prerecorded for the magazine’s launch party. “I am equally pleased that so many of the core values of the magazine are also the core values of the country and the society that has so graciously invited us to be a part of its cultural landscape.”
The Hebrew magazine published six issues before suffering heavy losses and closing within the year.