Read What TIME Said About Hugh Hefner 50 Years Ago

3 minute read

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, died Wednesday night at age 91.

Playboy Enterprises said in a statement that Hefner “peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones.”

Hefner was born in Chicago in 1929. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, he worked at Esquire before launching Playboy in 1953 and going on to make millions. TIME wrote a cover story on Hefner in 1967, which called Hefner a “prophet of pop hedonism” and described Hefner’s particular genius in launching Playboy:

The magazine has many things to offer, but the basis of success is the nude or seminude photograph that Hugh Hefner has made respectable in the U.S. prints. America was undoubtedly ready for it anyway, but Hefner seized the moment. He was the first publisher to see that the sky would not fall and mothers would not march if he published bare bosoms; he realized that the old taboos were going, that, so to speak, the empress need wear no clothes. He took the oldfashioned, shame-thumbed girlie magazine, stripped off the plain wrapper, added gloss, class and culture. It proved to be a surefire formula, which more sophisticated and experienced competitors somehow had never dared contemplate.

As the success of Playboy grew, Hefner became a larger than life personality, living in over-the-top mansions and always surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women, his “bunnies.” TIME’s cover story said of Hefner’s lifestyle:

Bacchanalia with Pepsi. Orgies with popcorn. And 24 girls—count ’em, 24—living right overhead! Not to mention all those mechanical reassurances, like TV and hifi. It is all so familiar and domestic. Don Juan? Casanova? That was in another country and, besides, the guys are dead. Hugh Hefner is alive, American, modern, trustworthy, clean, respectful, and the country’s leading impresario of spectator sex.

In his final years, Hefner saw a major change to his magazine: in December 2015, Playboy announced it would stop publishing nude photos. What was once risqué and titillating had become “passé,” in the words of Playboy CEO Scott Flanders, with the easy availability of Internet porn. The change was short lived, however, as in February 2017, Hefner’s son and Playboy’s new chief creative officer Cooper Hefner announced the magazine would bring back nudity, saying “Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem,” according to the BBC.

At its peak in the 1970s, Playboy had more than 7 million readers. Now, the magazine has a circulation of about 800,000 but its iconic logo showing a rabbit head wearing a bow tie is still one of the most recognizable in the world.

Hefner leaves behind his wife, Crystal Harris, as well as four children.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at