LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) — Hugh M. Hefner, the American magazine publisher and aspirational lifestyle advocate who launched Playboy magazine in 1954, died at his home on Monday. He was 91.
Starting from his kitchen table 64 years ago, Mr. Hefner turned Playboy Magazine into one of the best-selling and influential men's magazines of its time, known not only for cheesecake photos layouts of scantily clad and later nude women, but insightful interviews, long-form journalism, and fiction.
While its fortunes have waned in the Internet era, the magazine is published in more than 20 countries around the world and products featuring the company's trademarks drive more than $1 billion in sales annually.
"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. 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," said Cooper Hefner, Chief Creative Officer of Playboy Enterprises.
After a stint in the Army, attending college and working for a number of years in the magazine publishing industry, Hefner launched Playboy with capital raised from a loan using his furniture as collateral and borrowing the rest from family and friends, with the first issue published in December 1953.
Over the years, the magazine would publish fiction by authors ranging from Margaret Atwood and Ray Bradbury to Kurt Vonnegut and John Updike. The magazine's interviews debuted in 1962 when contributor Alex Haley interviewed artistic and cultural figures such as Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and infamously, George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party.
Hefner and the Playboy brand were also an early and vocal voice in the civil rights movement, with Hefner's "Playboy's Penthouse," the first television program to included racially diverse groups of performers, and audiences. Hefner's Playboy clubs in cities such as Miami and New Orleans were also early adopters of integration in an era of Jim Crow-based segregation.
Hefner was also an advocate for free speech and successfully sued the U.S. Postal Service after they refused to deliver Playboy Magazine to subscribers via the U.S. mail. He also fought the country's archaic "sodomy laws," supporting the concept that the government had no place in American bedrooms. His work in this area has been recognized as influential by historians of the gay rights movement.
In 1980, Mr. Hefner championed the reconstruction of the Hollywood sign and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his efforts.
Hefner also had an impact on music and staged the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, an event that will be celebrating its 38th anniversary this year.
Over the years, Hefner was awarded numerous accolades, including induction in the New York Friars Club in 2001; the Award of Honor and the First Amendment Award from the Pen Center USA; and the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the highest honor of the Magazine Publishers of America.
Hugh M Hefner is survived by his wife Crystal, four grown children, Christie, who served as CEO of Playboy Enterprise for more than 20 years, David, Marston, and Cooper, who currently serves as Chief Creative Officer at the company.