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Hugh Hefner, a Social Force in America, Built Empire on Babes, Boobs, Dies

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine and a pioneer of social change in America, has died at 91.

Hugh Hefner, a pioneer of the sexual revolution, who helped America break out of the turgid social restrictions of the 1950s and became a master of brand extension, has died at 91.

Hefner was radical for his time when he launched his iconic Playboy magazine in 1953 using 8,000 in borrowed money.

He caught a wave that began following World War II, when millions of men returned home from overseas wars and were ready to enjoy the fruits of their hard fought victories.

The magazine’s founding philosophy, based on hedonism, was quickly eclipsed by the politically turbulent ’60s counterculture revolution.

But Hefner managed to stay relevant by opening up the magazine to thought-provoking articles that championed many of the movement’s causes, such as free speech, civil rights, sexual freedom and even feminism.

He also stoked the magazine with celebrity interviews that included such leading figures as Martin Luther King Jr. Among the iconic journalists who graced its pages were Hunter S. Thompson, and Mark Boal.

Novelists like Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow and Margaret Atwood were also featured.

Most of all, the magazine espoused a lifestyle. Hefner, affectionately known as “Hef,” explained it this way:

“What made the magazine so popular was, even before I started writing the philosophy, there was a point of view in the magazine. Prior to that you couldn’t run nude pictures without some kind of rationale that they were art. I made them into, I put them into context of a positive, or what I perceived as a positive attitude, on male-female relationships. I suggested that sex was not the enemy, that violence was the enemy, that nice girls like sex.”

Hefner’s real genius may have been brand extension. He built an empire based on Playboy’s philosophy, using himself as its personification. In a sense, his career may be more noted for that, than the magazine itself.

At its height, the Playboy brand could be found on all manner of merchandise. Hefner founded a string of night clubs and casinos and created the Playboy mansion, where he hosted celebrity-packed parties that were infamous for their alleged debauchery.

The empire’s success also sowed the seeds of its eventual downfall. It spawned a host of competitors that published nude photos far more daring than Playboy’s saccharine images.

In addition, it’s core readership, free-wheeling, returning World War II veterans, grew up and grew older and settled into family life. Their kids wanted nothing to do with the Playboy lifestyle.

Hefner and Playboy became a running joke on shows like “Saturday Night Live,” in the 1970s.

The death of Playboy model Dorothy Stratten, who was murdered by her husband Paul Snider in 1980, showed there was a dark side to the Playboy ethos. It tarnished the magazine and Hefner.

As the brand went out of favor, the empire began to contract. Hefner was forced to close the clubs and casinos and finally to sell the Playboy mansion itself.

The magazine tried to remain relevant by publishing photo spreads of contemporary celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Kate Moss, Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Sharon Stone, Naomi Campbell and Lindsay Lohan.

But nothing could re-ignite enthusiasm for the magazine or its philosophical underpinning.

In 2010, Izabella St James, one of the legion of bottle blondes who shared Hefner’s storied mansion, wrote a devastating tell-all book that pulled back the curtain on Hef’s much-vaunted lifestyle.

Her book painted a grisly picture of life in the mansion for playmates, who serve Hefner’s every whim for a chance to be featured in his magazine.

She described a mercenary world where young women were expected to line up for emotionless, unprotected sex with Hefner, then 84, who fueled his romps with a steady diet of Viagra and Quaaludes.

She writes that Hefner’s bedroom reeked of dog urine and feces.

“Hef was used to dirty carpets. The one in his bedroom had not been changed for years, and things became significantly worse when Holly Madison moved into his room with him as Girlfriend No. 1 soon after I moved in, bringing her two dogs.

In another attempt at revival, the magazine announced in 2015 that it no longer would publish photos of nude women, a staple since its founding. The move, however, proved to be short lived.

The numbers tell the story. Playboy’s paid circulation topped 5 million in 1975, but has fallen to about 800,000, forcing wave after wave of cutbacks.

Hefner took the company private in 2011 after its publicly traded stock tanked.

The magazine closed its New York City offices a few years back and has slashed 420 employees from 585-member staff.

The following year, the last symbol of Hef’s hedonistic lifestyle, went on the auction block.

The notorious Playboy mansion in Los Angeles hit the market–with one catch. The new owner had to be willing to deal with Hef’s corpse. The house sold for $100 million and Hef was guaranteed to live out his life there.

And, he did precisely that.

“Hugh M. Hefner, the American icon who in 1953 introduced the world to Playboy magazine and built the company into one of the most recognizable American global brands in history, peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones,” a rep said in a statement.

Hugh’s son Cooper Hefner, who is the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, praised his father for living an “exceptional and impactful life”, and admitted he would be “greatly missed”.

“He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history,” he said.

“He will be greatly missed by many, including his wife Crystal, my sister Christie and my brothers David and Marston, and all of us at Playboy Enterprises.”

He leaves behind his third wife, Crystal Harris, a former Playboy Playmate who he married in 2012. Hugh was previously married to Kimberley Conrad from 1989 to 2010 and Millie Williams from 1949 to 1959.

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