Playboy founder Hugh Hefner changed American pop culture, one centerfold at a time.
With his Playboy Enterprises Inc in talks to be sold for about $300 million, the 83 year-old Hefner will be giving up control over the iconic adult entertainment empire he founded that was instrumental in shaping society’s opinions on nudity, sex and free speech.
With $600, Hefner in 1953 published the first Playboy magazine with a partially nude photo of Marilyn Monroe at its center. The magazine would become not only one of the most successful publications ever, but also a brand that led many Americans to think about sex in a more carefree way.
“Hef” turned Playboy and its bunny head logo into a symbol for a lifestyle he embodied as bachelor extraordinaire, living in a mansion surrounded by wealth and beautiful women.
“This guy was one of the major players in the transformation of American culture in the second half of the 20th century and not just because he had a magazine with naked women in it,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University.
In 1972, Playboy had a worldwide circulation of 7 million, but that has been in decline ever since, as the liberalization of sexual attitudes Hefner promoted became more mainstream — and more competitive.
But even as it grew ever more popular, the magazine created rivals such as Penthouse and Hustler. In the 1980s, adult videos grew into a major business and by the late 1990s, the rise of the Internet and free pornography on the Web became Playboy’s greatest rival for an audience.
Hefner remains in the limelight today, showing up at media events with numerous girlfriends by his side. He enjoyed a role in reality television show “The Girls Next Door” on cable network E! and his dating life and break-up with model Holly Madison made him a staple of celebrity magazines.