Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine who revolutionized publishing and helped usher in the sexual revolution with a vision of beauty, sophistication and the libertine lifestyle that reflected the desires of the postwar generation, died Wednesday at the age of 91.
It all began on a card table in Hefner’s living room on the south side of Chicago, where in late 1953 he laid out the pages for the first issue of a magazine that would ultimately become one of the most recognizable brands of the 20th century. When it hit stands, it was a sensation, selling out all 50,000 copies. By 1971, Playboy was selling 7 million copies a month, the company went public and the magazine’s bunny-eared logo had become one of the most recognized corporate brands in the world. Few players in the world of adult entertainment would come close to achieving Playboy’s mix of high culture and glossy sexuality.
“I didn’t just start a magazine. I started a magazine that changed everything,” he told Esquire in 2013.
— Playboy (@Playboy) September 28, 2017
At the start, Hefner relied on photos of well-known starlets and glamour queens like Jayne Mansfield and Bettie Page. But he quickly shifted to using amateur or unknown models, dubbed Playmates, believing that the girl-next-door image tapped more readily into ordinary people’s inherent sexuality. Over the years, many major celebrities graced the magazine’s pages — from Madonna to Drew Barrymore to Cindy Crawford. Others, like Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy, were launched to stardom after appearing as Playmates.
Hefner also paid top dollar for top-rate works of fiction and journalism, attracting iconic writers such as John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and Ian Fleming, among many others. Beginning in 1962, Playboy began featuring monthly interviews with leading cultural and historic figures, including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter. The quality of the work led readers to often quip, sometimes jokingly and sometimes not, that they bought the magazine for the articles — not, it was implied, for the photos.
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