Hugh Hefner, cultural icon, has passed away

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Hugh Marston Hefner. The name is recognizable to anyone over the age of 12. The brand he created 64 years ago is as well-known as it was in December 1953, maybe even more so.

Before he started the magazine Hefner was in the Army and then worked in publishing after graduating from the University of Illinois. But then he had the idea there was a market for an upscale men’s magazine.

Hugh Hefner with first Playboy issue, 1953
Courtesy Playboy

Playboy Magazine was started on Hefner’s kitchen table, with a $600 loan with his furniture as collateral, and a $1,000 loan from his mother. The first issue hit the newsstands at a time when nudity was hidden from public view. But in December 1953 the world was introduced to Hefner’s magazine, something different that not only featured tastefully displayed nude women, but featured some of the best literature and news of the day. It featured Marilyn Monroe as the first “Sweetheart of the Month,” in the magazine’s centerfold (which would later become the Playmate of the Month) making it a sensation when the 50,000-plus issues were sold out. But it also had articles on jazz, football and the lifestyle that would come to epitomize the Playboy Philosophy.

Over the years the magazine would provide the very best in contemporary fiction and non-fiction, featuring writers such as Margaret Atwood, Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur C. Clarke, Truman Capote and more. The Playboy Interview started a tradition that continues today, bringing in-depth looks into the lives of contemporary figures. The very first interview was with jazz legend Miles Davis, conducted by author Alex Haley, who also interviewed George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party and a virulent racist.

The magazine also featured interviews with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Carter — when he was running for president — and a host of other notable figures over the years. Men actually did read Playboy for the articles — after viewing the photos of the Playmates and other nude photography.

For over 20 years Playboy was not only the leader in men’s magazines, it was as popular as other publications like Time and Look.

The magazine and its founder were as progressive as they could be for the times and Hefner became a champion for the First Amendment — the freedom of the press. He was also known for his licentious lifestyle, which he lived for more of his life. His mansions in Chicago and Holmby Hills, CA, a very exclusive enclave of Los Angeles, became party palaces and the California mansion would become an L.A. institution, known for its extravagant parties.

Hugh and Crystal Hefner Wedding 2012
(Elayne Lodge)

This publication, the Los Angeles Post-Examiner, was started with a two-part series around the fabled Playboy Mansion and its parties.

Over the years Playboy Enterprises, Inc. had several CEOs, including his daughter Christie (from his first marriage), but Hefner remained the chief creative officer until his death.

His son Cooper, from his second marriage, will now carry on the family business. The magazine has changed quite a bit in its 64 years. The decline in publishing, a conservative shift in the U.S. in the 1980s, plus the unlimited supply of porn on the internet, has challenged the magazine’s popularity and changed its focus, but it will still be Hugh Hefner’s publication. He will continue to be a cultural icon for years to come.

Hefner died at his home of natural causes Wednesday, September 27, 2017. he was 91 years old.

He is survived by his wife Crystal and his four children, Christie, David, Marston and Cooper.

Hugh Marston Hefner: April 9, 1926 — September 27, 2017.

Hugh Hefner (Elayne Lodge)

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Playboy Enterprise’s obituary.

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Playboy no more

Playboy models talk about the magazine and founder

Playboy celebrates 60 years of publishing

Top photo courtesy of Playboy Enterprises, Inc.