PLAYBOY founder Hugh Hefner died last night surrounded by loved ones at his iconic mansion at the age of 91.
The self-styled godfather of the sexual revolution passed away from natural causes after decades transforming the original lads' mag into a £150million empire.
Celebrities from Kim Kardashian to Paris Hilton have paid tribute to the flamboyant figure who claimed to have bedded thousands of beautiful women.
He is survived by his third wife Crystal Harris, a former Playboy Playmate who was Miss December 2009.
His son Cooper remembered the pioneer as a "leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time".
"My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer," he said.
"He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand."
The firm behind the magazine described Hefner as "the American icon who in 1953 introduced the world to Playboy magazine and built the company into one of the most recognisable American global brands in history."
— Playboy (@Playboy) September 28, 2017
THE PLAYBOY REVOLUTION
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 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."
Censorship of the magazine was inevitable. Playboy has been banned in China, India, Saudi Arabia and Ireland.
In the 1950s, Hefner successfully sued to prevent the U.S. Postal Service from denying him second-class mailing status.
7-Eleven stores for years did not sell the magazine. Stores that did offer Playboy made sure to stock it on a higher shelf.
Women were warned from the first issue: "If you're somebody's sister, wife, or mother-in-law," the magazine declared, "and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to Ladies Home Companion."
Hefner has four children from his two previous marriages.
His daughter Christie who was born in 1952 and son David, born in 1955, were from his first marriage to Mildred Williams, who he was with from 1949 to 1959.
His younger two sons – Marston, born in 1990, and Cooper, born in 1991 – were from his marriage to Playboy’s “Playmate of the Year”, Kimberly Conrad.
He split with Kimberley in 2010 – the same year he announced his engagement to his current partner.
At the time of his death, Hefner’s net worth was estimated to be around £40million.
His fortune is believed to have totalled some £160million in years gone by, but was hit hard when Playboy’s stock lost 80 per cent of its value.
The first issue came out in December 1953 – featuring nude photos of actress Marilyn Monroe – and was a hit.
As the magazine took off, it was attacked from the right because of the nudity and from the left by feminists who said it reduced women to sex objects.
By the 1970s, Playboy magazine had more than seven million readers and had inspired such raunchier imitations as Penthouse and Hustler.
Competition and the internet reduced circulation to less than three 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 became the flamboyant symbol of the lifestyle he espoused.
For decades he was the pipe-smoking, silk-pajama-wearing center of a constant party with celebrities and Playboy models.
By his own account, Hefner had sex with more than a thousand women, including many of 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.
News of Hefner's death broke last night and sent the world of entertainment into mourning.
Many of his famous friends and fans have now taken to social media to remember the man who founded the original lads’ mag Playboy.
In a post on Twitter, Kim Kardashian wrote: "RIP to the legendary Hugh Hefner! I’m so honored to have been a part of the Playboy team! You will be greatly missed! Love you Hef! Xoxo."
Paris Hilton shared a montage of pictures showing her with Hefner and she added a sweet message about the Playboy founder.
She wrote: "So sad to hear the news about Hugh Hefner.
"He was a legend, innovator & one of a kind. We had many fun & incredible memories together.
"I will miss him dearly. Rest in peace my friend."
R.I.P. Hugh Hefner ? The American Icon who in 1953 introduced the world 2 Playboy mag and built the company into one of the most recognizable American Global brands in history , I am so grateful I had the opportunity to shoot many Playboy celebrity pictorials with u Hef❤️ thank u for picking me and Bringing me into the magical world of Playboy ! I just can't stop crying and I can't imagine how many bunnies are crying for u too. U are a class act and I will always have gratitude for your kindness ??love u Hef #hughhefner #playboy #icon @playboy
— Gene Simmons (@genesimmons) September 28, 2017
— Heidi Montag (@heidimontag) September 28, 2017
— Courtney Stodden (@CourtneyStodden) September 28, 2017
Jenny McCarthy shared a picture of her own Playboy cover and offered a poignant tribute to Hef.
In a post on Instagram, she wrote: "RIP #Hef Thank you for being a revolutionary and changing so many people's lives, especially mine. Thank you for choosing me to be one of your bunnies. I hope I made you proud. I will forever be grateful."
Baywatch star Donna D'Errico credited the late publisher with kickstarting her career by featuring her in the magazine.
She tweeted: "Hugh Hefner put me in Playboy & ignited my career.
"Am forever indebted, Hef. You will forever live on as an icon of epic proportions. #RIP."
Hefner will be laid to rest next to America's first playmate Marilyn Monroe following his death on Wednesday.
Hefner reserved the plot at Westwood Memorial Park in LA next to the movie star icon decades after her death in 1962.
He purchased it for £55,000 ($75,000) in 1992, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
THE DARK SIDE OF PLAYBOY
Some bunnies reportedly had traumatic experiences, with several alleging they had been raped by Hefner's close friend Bill Cosby, who faced dozens of such allegations in recent years.
Hefner issued a statement in late 2014 he "would never tolerate this behavior."
But two years later, former bunny Chloe Goins sued Cosby and Hefner for sexual battery, gender violence and other charges over an alleged 2008 rape.
One bunny turned out to be a journalist: Feminist Gloria Steinem got hired in the early 1960s and turned her brief employment into an article for Show magazine that described the clubs as pleasure havens for men only.
The bunnies, Steinem wrote, tended to be poorly educated, overworked and underpaid. Steinem regarded the magazine and clubs not as erotic, but "pornographic."
"I think Hefner himself wants to go down in history as a person of sophistication and glamour. But the last person I would want to go down in history as is Hugh Hefner," Steinem later said.
"Women are the major beneficiaries of getting rid of the hypocritical old notions about sex," Hefner responded. "Now some people are acting as if the sexual revolution was a male plot to get laid.
"One of the unintended by-products of the women's movement is the association of the erotic impulse with wanting to hurt somebody."
At the height of Playboy's success in the 1970s, the millionaire bought the second mansion in Los Angeles.
He flew 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 in 1960 opened a string of clubs around the world where waitresses wore revealing costumes with bunny ears and fluffy white bunny tails.
In the 21st century, he was back on television in a cable reality show "The Girls Next Door" with three live-in girlfriends in the Los Angeles Playboy mansion.
Network television briefly embraced Hefner's empire in 2011 with the NBC drama "The Playboy Club," which failed to lure viewers and was cancelled after three episodes.
Drew Barrymore, Farrah Fawcett and Linda Evans are among those who have posed for the magazine.
Several bunnies became celebrities, too, including singer Deborah Harry and model Lauren Hutton, both of whom had fond memories of their time with Playboy.
Hefner said he was a strong advocate of First Amendment, civil and reproductive rights and that the magazine contained far more than centrefolds.
Playboy serialized Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and later published fiction by John Updike, Doris Lessing and Vladimir Nabokov.
Playboy also specialized in long and candid interviews, from Fidel Castro and Frank Sinatra to Marlon Brando and then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, who confided that he had "committed adultery" in his heart.
John Lennon spoke to Playboy in 1980, not long before he was murdered.
"RIP #Hef Thank you for being a revolutionary and changing so many people's lives, especially mine. I hope I made you proud." television personality and former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy on Twitter.
"RIP to the legendary Hugh Hefner! I'm so honored to have been a part of the Playboy team! You will be greatly missed! Love you Hef! Xoxo" reality star Kim Kardashian on Twitter.
"I had a number of great conversations and with Hugh Hefner. Was such an interesting man. True legend. What an end of an era!" actor Rob Lowe on Twitter.
"One of the nicest men I've ever known. Godspeed, Hugh Hefner." singer Nancy Sinatra on Twitter.
"Hugh Hefner was a GIANT in publishing, journalism, free speech & civil rights. He was a true original, and he was my friend. Rest well Hef." broadcaster Larry King on Twitter.
"Hugh Hefner put me in Playboy & ignited my career. I am forever indebted, Hef. You will forever live on as an icon of epic proportions." actress and former Playmate Donna D'Errico on Twitter.
"So sad to hear the news about Hugh Hefner. He was a #Legend, innovator & one of a kind. We had so many fun & incredible memories together. I will miss him dearly." socialite Paris Hilton on Facebook.
"when I did playboy he spoke words to me that affected my direction. he was a man the room would stop for when he entered" singer Aubrey O'Day on Twitter.
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