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Hugh Hefner: hero, villain, or a little of both?

Oct. 3, 2017
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“Life is too short to be living someone else's dream”-Hugh Hefner

At the age of 91,within his infamous Playboy mansion, Hugh Hefner passed away on Wednesday.   

Hefner’s complex legacy began in the 1950s as Hugh built his empire, kicking off (and complicating) the sexual revolution that would change the world forever. Born in Chicago on April 9th, 1926, to devout Methodist parents, Hefner grew up in a home where the discussion of sex was forbidden. 

After college, Hefner went on to pursue a career in journalism, obtaining a job at Esquire. However, after being denied a raise, Hefner quit his job and was determined to start his own publication.   

Rebelling against his conservative upbringing, in 1953, during a time when states could legally ban the use of contraceptives, Hefner published the first issues of Playboy, which featured nude photos of our favorite blonde bombshell, Marilyn Monroe. The magazine, which was first launched out of Hefner's kitchen, was an overnight success, selling over 50,000 copies for its first issue.

Although a success, the launch of Hefner’s brand also unleashed a storm of controversy and outrage. In the first issue alone, Marilyn Monroe never signed an agreement with Playboy for the release of her photos. In exchange for fifty dollars, in 1949, Marilyn posed nude for photographer Tommy Kelley, who later sold the images to Hefner for $500, a move that almost ruined her career and reputation. 

In 1960 Hefner began hosting his TV shows, Playboy's Penthouse and Playboy After Dark. As well as bought the first Playboy mansion and Playboy club. Within a year, the magazine's publication had reached over 200,000, which would increase to over 7 million within 10 years.

Hefners mansion became a place for swingers, where the party never stopped. Introducing the radical idea of group sex. Hefner soon began collecting women, who he referred to as “Bunnies” and “Playmates”.  Despite being a self proclaimed feminist, hefner's womanizing tendencies depicted a different story. 

“It was a constant struggle,” Holly Madison, Hefner’s previous long-term girlfriend told PEOPLE about living at the Playboy Mansion. “I was trying to sell this image of ‘Oh everything is so great here,’ but I was miserable inside.”

Hefner openly took on several girlfriends at a time, allowing them to live in the mansion as long as they obeyed his “rules”, which included a 9:00p.m curfew, a nightly orgy, mandatory movie nights three days a week, wearing matching pajamas, and keeping up their physical appearance, even if he had to buy them plastic surgery.     

Chloe Goins, the model who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, also initiated a lawsuit again Hugh Hefner for an incident that occurred at the mansion in 2008, which included sexual battery and gender violence. “Defendant HEFNER’s actions of inviting and hosting young and impressionable and possibly minor children to his residence, and providing alcoholic beverages and or foreign substances was negligent at the very least,” stated Goins.  

In a 1992 interview with The New York Times, when asked what he was most proud of, Hefner stated: “ 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.”

Some of our famous Playboy bunnies include Farrah Fawcett, Drew Barrymore, and feminist warrior, Gloria Steinem, who later went on to publish articles about the pornographic happenings of the Playboy mansion. After going undercover as a bunny for 10 days in one of Hefner’s Playboy clubs, Steinem depicted it to be anything but a place for actual gentleman. 

After being hired, the women were forced to wear tight bunny costumes, which were "two inches smaller than any of my measurements everywhere except the bust." said Steinem, stating that the outfit was "so tight the zipper caught my skin" and bunnies who sneezed would break their zippers. "Girls with colds usually have to be replaced,".

Despite his obvious contradictions, Hefner was a strong advocate of reproductive rights, civil rights, same-sex marriage, and the country's First Amendment, upholding a vision that the magazine would contain more than just centerfolds. 

In 1985 Hefner suffered a sever stroke and handed control over to his daughter Christine. However, still owning 70% of the company, Hef still chose every month's Playmate and cover shot. Needing to tone down his party lifestyle, Hefner became involved in several philanthropic causes, such as donating $100,000 to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to put in a class of “Censorship in Cinema”, as well as donated $2 million to endow a chair for the study of American film. Hefner also raised fund for the restoration of the Hollywood Sign in 1978, and personally donated $27,000. Being an animal lover, he also organized multiple fundraisers for Much Love Animal Rescue and Generation Rescue. 

In 1998, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Magazine Editors, as well as received the Henry Johnson Fisher Award in 2002.  In 2010, Dr. Lois Lee, founder and president of the Children of the Night organization, presented Hefner with the Founder’s Hero of the Heart Award, in acknowledgement of his commitment and generosity

Although known for keeping himself surrounded by beautiful women, in 1949 Hefner married his first wife Mildred Williams, who he had two children with. Divorcing in 1959, he re-married the Playmate of the year, Kimberley Conrad, in 1989, who he also had two more children with. Divorcing once again in 2010, at the age of 86, Hefner married for a final time to his current wife, Crystal Harris, in 2012. 

Despite being known for being surrounded by beautiful women, as well as having a merry-go-round of wives, girlfriends, and mistresses, Hefner claimed to have never found his soulmate, yet bragged about bedding over $1,000 women. 

Now, having a net worth of an estimated 50 million, the Playboy name has grown into not only a magazine, but numerous clubs, resorts, casinos, a record label and a production company.  

Although many would disagree with Hefner’s sex filled lifestyle, he was an undeniable icon and leading voice amongst our societies social movements. This pajama wearing, pipe smoking, bachelor has left us with the contradicting perspectives of his actual contribution to our society. Was he a womanizer? A philanthropist? A sexual liberator? An exploiter of women? Could he have been all of it? Maybe so.    

In a poetic gesture, Hefner will be buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park, in Los Angeles, right next to his blonde beauty that started it all, Marilyn Monroe. (Which he probably didn’t ask her permission to do either)