Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, died Wednesday night at the age of 91.
Hefner “peacefully passed away … from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones,” said a statement from Playboy Enterprises. He is survived by wife Crystal Harris and children Cooper, Christie, Marston and David Hefner.
If you are anything like myself, it is difficult to separate Hugh from his essentially-eponymous magazine — but honestly, I think that is precisely the way Hef wanted it to be. Touching on the heart of controversy in America — “sex and wealth and success,” according to Hefner — was the “very nature of Playboy and [his] life.” From the magazine’s conception in 1953, Hefner set out to create a different kind of world than the one he grew up in, one where free speech, civil rights and sexual freedoms were the norm.
And, let me tell you, the man led by example. For the last 64 years, his life was the total embodiment of the Playboy ethos. It was luxurious; it was indulgent; it was seemingly limitless — it was hedonism at its very finest.
Whether you approve of his methods or not, there is no denying that Hugh Hefner changed the game. TIME magazine wrote a cover story on Hefner in 1967, describing him as a “prophet of pop hedonism,” attributing his success to his ability to “see that the sky would not fall and mothers would not march if he published bare bosoms.” It wasn’t just his ability to see that “the sky wouldn’t fall” that made Hef the man we remember today; it was his willingness to strip off layers of shame and secrecy, replacing them with unabashed, high-gloss centerfolds.Now, I cannot personally ascribe to the image of Hefner-as-feminist in the way many like to paint him. There was, at best, the thinnest guise of sexual liberation for men and women alike — when really, as Kellie Turtle put it, “It was about putting women back in their place, which was as objects for male desire.” Yes, Hefner was interested in removing the taboo surrounding sexual desire. It’s just that he was only interested in so far as it benefited men.
And, yet, I also cannot deny some of the ways that Playboy pushed societal and cultural boundaries en masse, many of them unknown. We are all familiar with the part Hefner and his magazine played in the sexual revolution, but lesser known are the ways that Playboy was involved in the push for racial equality, gay rights, and legal reform. They were the amicus curiae for Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case that gave women the right to choose. When Playboy franchises in Miami and New Orleans refused to admit black people, Hefner bought back the licenses for those clubs (even though he took a financial hit doing so) and allowed people of all races to enjoy what they had to offer.
Hugh Hefner’s life was, and will remain, a polarizing one. For some, Hef will be remembered as a visionary, a man who rewrote the rules, making reality out of fantasy. For others, he will be remembered as a man who created an empire out of the notion that, as George Orwell put it, all animals are equal, it’s just that some are more equal than others.
Like him or leave him, the passing of Hugh Hefner marks the end of an era in pop culture. Let’s take a look at what the next era will look like for Playboy:
Rumor has it that Hefner had an iron-clad pre-nup, keeping his estate out of his (final) wife’s hands and leaving the entirety to his children and various charities. I sincerely hope the rumor is false. She won’t get the whole kit and kaboodle, sure, but the woman surely deserves a little something.
The name Rizvi Traverse might not mean anything to you, but it means a lot for the future of Playboy magazine. Rizvi Traverse is the company that bought a controlling stake in Playboy Enterprises back in 2011, and that now has one year to buy Hefner’s 33-percent stake in the company. Considering how poor monthly circulation has been for the magazine as of late, and the losing battle it faces in competition with the internet, it is more likely than not that the magazine is nearing its demise. But it should survive another 16 months or so.
Back in 2016, the Playboy Mansion was sold to Daren Metropoulos, a principal at Metropoulos & Company, for $100 million. The only condition for sale was that Mr. Hefner could continue to work and live in the mansion. Now that he has passed, Metropoulos is free to do whatever he wants, and I don’t imagine that includes subsidizing room and board for the Bunnies.
Jude Law: 4/9
Michael Fassbender: 3/2
James Franco: 3/1
Andrew Garfield: 2/1
Featured Image: Hugh Hefner (Glenn Francis (Wikimedia [CC License]))
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