A proud crusader to the end
Hugh Hefner vividly remembered the moment in Chicago when he conceived an idea that would usher in a sexual revolution.
‘‘I stood on the Michigan Avenue Bridge and looked out at the lake and thought, ‘Is this all there is to my life?’ I was working as a circulation manager for a children’s magazine and immediately I began making plans for this men’s magazine.’’
He was 27, unhappily married and struggling to pay his bills.
He married Millie Williams, a high school friend from Chicago, in 1949.
Before the wedding she confessed that she had had an affair while he had been away in the army.
The admission, he said, was ‘‘the most devastating moment of my life’’ and a psychologist might have construed that it was in part responsible for his later promiscuity.
Out of guilt at her own infidelity, she agreed that he could have sex with other women.
He later told an interviewer: ‘‘We had three unhappy years and two children, and the walls around me grew higher.’’
His first daughter, Christie Hefner, was born in 1952.
She began working for her father after college and by 1988 had risen to chairwoman and chief executive of Playboy Enterprises.
She held the posts for 21 years. His son, David, was born in 1955. His parents separated soon after.
What happened to David remains a mystery.
Rumours suggest that he suffered total amnesia after an accident; others that he owns a computer consulting firm.
Hugh Hefner did not marry again until he was 63.
His second wife was Kimberley Conrad, the 1989 playmate of the year.
They had two sons, Marston Glenn, who was sentenced to a 52-week domestic violence programme in 2012 after allegedly beating his Playmate girlfriend, and Cooper Bradford, who was groomed by his father to take over the Playboy empire.
When Hefner and Conrad separated in 1998 she moved into a house next door to the mansion with the children.
He married his third wife, Crystal Harris, another playmate of the year, in 2012. At 26 she was 60 years his junior. Their courtship was rocky. Hefner had announced the wedding 18 months earlier by putting Harris on the cover of Playboy with a headline declaring, ‘‘Introducing America’s Princess, Mrs Crystal Hefner’’.
When she broke off the engagement five days before the ceremony, just as the magazine was due to hit the newsstands, a sticker reading ‘‘Runaway Bride’’ was hastily appended to the cover.
Hefner remained editor-in-chief into his nineties, having sold the Playboy Mansion for US$100 million with the proviso that he would continue to live there until his death.
Hugh Marston Hefner was born in Chicago in 1926 to Glenn and Grace Hefner, who were austere Methodists who had moved east from Nebraska’s farm country.
Hefner and his younger brother, Keith, were overseen more closely by their potent mother than by their father, who worked late nights as an accountant for an aluminium company.
‘‘My mother and father gave us intellectual freedom,’’ Hefner said.
‘‘But they imposed rigid Protestant fundamentalist ethics on us. There was no drinking, no smoking, no swearing, no going to the movies on Sunday.
‘‘Worst of all was their attitude toward sex, which they considered a horrid thing, never to be mentioned.’’
Subsequently his parents worked for Playboy and became millionaires themselves.
With characteristic immodesty, Hefner noted that he did not think that they ‘‘ever fully appreciated the positive impact that Playboy and my life have had on society’’.
As an adolescent Hefner was gauche and gawky, embarrassed by ‘‘just putting my arm around a girl’’.
He collected butterflies, wrote, drew, and created cartoon comic strips.
Towards the end of the Second World War he served as a company clerk in the US army, but was not posted overseas.
After his discharge he enrolled at the University of Illinois, graduating in psychology, creative writing and art.
Close friends described him as a loner and a workaholic.
His other habits were surprisingly abstemious: for most of his adult life he ate one meal a day, seldom drank and avoided caffeine.
In later years he cut a doddery figure, surrounded by his dogs, whom he allowed to defecate on his bedroom carpet.
Yet he remained a proud crusader to the end.
‘‘The real problems I had, back in the Sixties and Seventies, had less to do with naked women than the fact I was trying to change the world,’’ he told one interviewer when well into his eighties.
For better or for worse, few would argue that, in his way, he did.