Hugh Hefner — founder of Playboy — dies at age 91 in famous Los Angeles mansion
LOS ANGELES (KUSI) — Hugh M. Hefner, who founded Playboy magazine in 1953 and built the company into one of the most recognizable American global brands, died Wednesday from natural causes at his Holmby Hills home, the Playboy Mansion. He was 91.
Hefner died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones, according to Playboy Enterprises.
After serving in the Army, attending college and working for several years in the magazine publishing industry, Hefner became convinced that there was a market for an upscale men’s magazine.
He put up his furniture as collateral for a loan and borrowed the rest from family and friends, Hefner published the first issue of Playboy in December 1953, working from his kitchen table.
The magazine was an instant sensation and would become the world’s largest-selling and most influential men’s magazine, spawning a number of successful global businesses, including nightclubs.
The magazine is published in more than 20 nations around the world and products featuring the company’s trademarks drive more than $1 billion in sales annually, according to the company.
Although best known for its centerfolds of nude women, Playboy also published fiction by such writers as Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, John Updike, Ian Fleming, Joseph Heller, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, author of "The Handmaid’s Tale,” Jack Kerouac and Kurt Vonnegut.
"Playboy Interview” debuted in 1962 when frequent contributor Alex Haley, best known for writing "Roots” interviewed jazz legend Miles Davis.
Haley’s Playboy interviews also included Malcolm X, the Rev. Martin Luther King and George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party.
Hefner hosted the 1959-61 syndicated talk show "Playboy’s Penthouse,” credited with being the first television program to feature mixed groups of black and white performers and audience members together.
Hefner triumphed in several efforts to block distribution of Playboy and curtail the sexual freedom it championed. He won a case in the U.S. Supreme Court over the U.S. Post Office’s refusal to deliver Playboy to subscribers.
Hefner also battled the nation’s sodomy laws, with his work being recognized as influential by historians of the gay rights movement.
Hefner championed the reconstruction of the Hollywood sign in 1980. He staged the annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl since 1979.
Hefner’s many honors include induction into the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Magazine Editors, the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the highest honor of the Magazine Publishers of America, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Press Club.
"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,” said Hefner’s son Cooper, the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises.
"He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”
Other survivors include his wife, Crystal, daughter Christie, the CEO of Playboy Enterprises for more than 20 years, and sons David and Marston.
Information regarding memorial services was not available.
Billionaire businessman Daren Metropoulos announced in August 2016 that escrow has closed on his $100 million purchase of The Playboy Mansion. The deal allowed Hefner to continue living at the mansion for the rest of his life.
Metropoulos — whose family’s company owns Hostess Brand foods and previously owned firms such as Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Ghirardelli Chocolates, Chef Boyardee and Duncan Hines — has lived next door to the Playboy Mansion since 2009.
Metropoulos said last year that after Hefner’s death he would connect his estate and the Playboy Mansion, "ultimately returning the combined 7.3-acre compound to the original vision executed by architect Arthur R. Kelly and its first owner, Arthur Letts Jr., the department store heir whose father conceived and developed Holmby Hills when it was the Wolfskill Ranch.”
Playboy Enterprises acquired the 20,000-square-foot mansion, which was built in 1927, in 1971.