Playboy founder Hugh Hefner has died at 91.
In 1953, the then 27 year old bought the rights to a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe and launched a magazine, a brand and a lifestyle that would change America. The first issue carried no date, in hopes it might remain on the newsstands long enough to find an audience. Did it ever.
Before Playboy, pinup models weren’t girls we would ever meet in real life. Playboy changed that, introducing us to the girl next door, to the idea that the bank teller, the supermarket clerk, the secretary or the CEO could be smart, accomplished, and yes, very sexy. Hefner believed that sex between consenting adults was a lot of fun and wasn’t anyone else’s business. Plenty of Puritans, preachers and prosecutors disagreed, but circulation grew to a high of seven million in the 1970s.
While we may have turned first to the centerfold, it really was as much about the articles. Playboy brought us award-winning writing from world class authors. It discussed race relations and the Vietnam war long before many Americans were comfortable discussing those topics. It taught a generation of young men how to dress and how to impress the ladies in our lives, how to tie a tie, how to mix a drink. It foresaw the consumer revolution that would take place in the post-World War Two era. It gave an outlet to counterculture comedians like Lenny Bruce. It turned us on to musicians we might not otherwise have known. The Playboy interviews provided the most in-depth look at the important people of the day. For my generation, Playboy was a news magazine for young men.
A New York Times opinion piece says Hef invented the modern man. He did, indeed. He lived the life his magazine wrote about and he did so unapologetically. Here’s hoping Hef’s heaven includes comfy pajamas, an unlimited supply of Pepsi and plenty of beautiful women.
We’ll miss you, Hugh Marston Hefner.