Hugh Hefner Dies at 91

The mansion has gone dark.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died yesterday at age 91. He was responsible for two of the most iconic sex images of the 20th century: the playful rabbit of the Playboy logo, and the ladies’ man image of a sophisticated gentleman in a smoking jacket, complete with pipe and sly smile.

He founded Playboy Magazine in 1953 with the idea of providing provocative and playful entertainment for men. Nude pictorials — including the famous spread of Marilyn Monroe that highlighted the very first issue — were the primary draw, but the magazine also became known for its incisive fiction, bawdy cartoons, and insightful interviews with celebrities. “I’m living a grown-up version of a boy’s dream, turning life into a celebration,” Hefner said in a 1967 interview. “It’s all over too quickly. Life should be more than a vale of tears.”

Hefner was every inch the ladies’ man that his reputation always suggested. When asked in 2013 by Esquire how many women he’d been intimate with, he said, “How could I possibly know? Over a thousand, I’m sure.” A popular urban legend even claimed that the mysterious stars that appeared on Playboy covers indicated the number of times Hefner had slept with the featured Playmate. (In reality, the stars were distribution codes.) His parties at the Playboy Mansions in Chicago and later Los Angeles became the stuff of legend. (The mansion itself was put up for sale in 2016, with the proviso that Hefner could still reside there until his death.)

While Playboy moved away from its signature nude pictorials in 2015, it successfully returned to its adults-only roots earlier this year. The brand has become so familiar and successful that it even inspired a book, Building Brand Value the Playboy Way. The book’s authors succinctly captured Hefner’s philosophy: “Hefner’s belief that life should be a celebration, a cool embrace of sexy merry-making and marvelously uninhibited beautiful women (though innocent enough to take home to mom), of superior wining and dining, good grooming, good music and good times, was as watertight a rendition of brand guidelines as exists – and men lived it and loved it.”

It’s probably not a far stretch to say that without the sexual revolution Hugh Hefner and his magazine helped create, companies like Adult Empire would not exist. The smoking jacket may now be empty and the signature pipe may remain unlit, but Hefner’s legacy will live on for a long, long time.