Controversial founder of the Playboy Magazine, Hugh Hefner dies at 91

The ‘American Icon’ peacefully passed away at his Playboy mansion due to natural causes, the publication announced.

Hefner, who founded the men’s lifestyle magazine in 1953, died at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

Cooper Hefner, Hefner’s son and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises siad in a statement- “My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”

Hefner, who was born in Chicago in 1926 to Methodist parents worked as a copywriter for Esquire before launching Playboy magazine in December 1953. The first issue, produced from his kitchen and financed with $8,000 from investors, featured nude photographs of Marilyn Monroe, taken years earlier, and sold over 50,000 copies. The magazine became known for its sexually explicit content. Former member of the Beatles, John Lennon spoke to Playboy in 1980, not long before he was murdered.

The magazine’s “progressive” approach to sexuality made it a controversial publication, albeit wildly popular, and during the course of Hefner’s lifetime the Playboy brand expanded to include film and print media products, clothing, fragrances, jewellery and accessories and more, all marked with its distinctive “bunny” logo. At the time of Hefner’s death, the magazine itself was published in over 20 countries, with Playboy Enterprises claiming over $1bn in annual sales from its trademarked assets.

Hefner once called the “prophet of pop hedonism” by Time magazine popularized the term “centerfold,” which glamorized an urbane bachelor lifestyle and helped spur the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But some critics dismissed him as a relic of a sexist era, especially in his later years, when Hefner spoke openly of his Viagra-fueled sex romps at the Playboy Mansion.

The magazine and Hefner’s lifestyle often provoked criticism, from feminists and conservatives alike. Also in 1963, Hefner was arrested on obscenity charges after publishing nude photos of Jayne Mansfield but the charges were dropped after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

“Love him or loathe him, no one doubts Mr. Hefner’s influence in American cultural history,” The New York Times wrote in 2009. “As a magazine publisher, he essentially did for sex what Ray Kroc did for roadside food: clean it up for a rising middle class.”

By Anab (Swalla)