Hugh Hefner turned silk pajamas into a work uniform, women into centerfolds and sexual desire into a worldwide multimedia empire that spanned several generations of American life.
With Playboy, he helped slip sex out of the confines of plain brown wrappers and into mainstream conversation.
In 1953, a time when states could legally ban contraceptives and the word “pregnant” was not allowed on “I Love Lucy,” Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, featuring naked photos of Marilyn Monroe and an editorial promise of “humor, sophistication and spice.”
The Great Depression and World War II were over and Playboy soon became forbidden fruit for teens and a bible for men with time and money, primed for the magazine’s prescribed evenings of dimmed lights, hard drinks, soft jazz, deep thoughts and deeper desires. Within a year, circulation neared 200,000. Within five years, it had topped 1 million.
Hefner, the pipe-smoking embodiment of the lifestyle he touted, died at his home of natural causes on Wednesday night, Playboy said in a statement. He was 91.
Hefner and Playboy were brand names worldwide. Asked by The New York Times in 1992 of what he was proudest, Hefner responded: “That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.”
By the 1970s, Playboy magazine had more than 7 million readers and had inspired raunchier imitations such as Penthouse and Hustler. Competition and the internet reduced circulation to less than 3 million by the 21st century, and the number of issues published annually was cut from 12 to 11. In 2015, Playboy ceased publishing images of naked women, citing the proliferation of nudity on the internet but restored its traditional nudity earlier this year.
Hefner was an ongoing advertisement for his own product, the pipe-smoking, silk-pajama-wearing center of an A-list, X-rated party. By his own account, Hefner had sex with more than a thousand women, including many pictured in his magazine. One of rock ‘n’ roll’s most decadent tours, the Rolling Stones shows of 1972 featured a stop at the Hefner mansion.
Throughout the 1960s, Hefner left Chicago only a few times. In the early 1970s, he bought the second mansion in Los Angeles, flying between his homes on a private DC-9 dubbed “The Big Bunny,” which boasted a giant Playboy bunny emblazoned on the tail.
Hefner was host of a television show, “Playboy After Dark,” and…