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Hugh Hefner: Founder of the Iconic Playboy Empire

Full Name Hugh Marston Hefner
Birthday April 9, 1926
Death Date September 27, 2017
Birth Sign Aries
Born United States
Height 5′ 9′′
Net Worth $50M

Hugh Marston Hefner was an American magazine publisher and founder of Playboy, which caused controversy due to its revealing content. He built one of the most iconic adult entertainment empires which had a major cultural impact on views of sexuality and freedom of speech.

Early Life and Upbringing

Hefner was born on April 9, 1926 in Chicago, Illinois to Glenn and Grace Hefner. He had a younger brother named Keith. Their parents were both teachers – his father an accountant and his mother a teacher. The family was Methodist and conservative.

As a child, Hefner showed a creative streak. He started drawing cartoons for his school newspaper in elementary school. In high school, he founded his own newspaper where he illustrated comics. He was also voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by his graduating class.

After serving two years in the army, Hefner attended the University of Illinois in the late 1940s. He earned a double major in psychology and art. In college, he continued to hone his publishing skills as a cartoonist and editor for the college‘s newspaper.

Launching Playboy Magazine

After graduating in 1949, Hefner briefly pursued a master‘s degree before landing a copywriting job at Esquire magazine in 1951. This experience introduced him to the men‘s magazine business and inspired the concept for Playboy.

Hefner wanted to call his own magazine "Stag Party" but was forced to change the name. In December 1953, he finally published the first issue of Playboy featuring none other than Marilyn Monroe as the cover girl and centerfold pinup.

The magazine was an immediate success, selling over 50,000 copies. With its high-quality paper, renowned writers, and iconic nude photography, Playboy stood out in a crowded field of men‘s publications. By the late 1950s, circulation exceeded 1 million per month.

Creating the Playboy Lifestyle Empire

On the heels of Playboy‘s popularity, Hefner sought to expand the brand into leisure and entertainment. In 1959, he hosted the first Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago, drawing thousands of fans. Soon Playboy Clubs – membership-only establishments with dining, music, and bunny-costumed waitresses – were opening nationwide.

In 1971, Hefner purchased the lavish Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, hosting wild pool parties and celebrations that attracted celebrities. As the face of Playboy, Hefner fully embraced the swinging lifestyle portrayed in his magazine.

Hefner took Playboy Enterprises public the same year while retaining creative control. Over the following decades, he grew the brand into film, television, events, merchandise and more, serving as the company‘s public persona.

Personal Life and Relationships

Despite his playboy image, Hefner married three times in his life. His first marriage was in 1949 to Mildred "Millie" Williams. After divorcing Williams in 1959, Hefner dated and lived with numerous Playmates over the years.

In 1989, he married Playmate Kimberley Conrad and they had two sons together before separating in 1998. In 2012, the 86-year-old married model Crystal Harris, who was 60 years his junior. They were married until Hefner‘s death in 2017 at age 91.

Outside of work, Hefner was a major supporter of progressive social causes. He donated millions to fight racism, sexism, and censorship through his nonprofit Playboy Foundation.

Lasting Cultural Legacy

While controversial, Hefner played a pioneering role in establishing increased sexual freedom and free speech in America. He fought long legal battles defending Playboy‘s right to publish revealing images and uncensored content.

Playboy magazine and the hedonistic lifestyle it promoted redefined bachelor culture and masculinity for generations of American men. The brand‘s clubs, cocktail parties, and provocative photography encapsulated the newly liberated mood of the 1960s.

Though the magazine‘s circulation declined in the digital age, Playboy remains an iconic empire today in both print and digital media. Hugh Hefner was a visionary cultural figure who helped spark the sexual revolution. His bold risk-taking leaves a lasting legacy of elevating sexuality into the mainstream conversation.